Harambe became a meme this summer — one with a shockingly long lifespan for the Internet — as earnest outrage over the endangered gorilla’s death gave way to ironic outrage and an onslaught of escalating jokes repeating Harambe’s name. A bunch of teens managed to get Google Maps to rename the street outside their high school “Harambe Drive,” Harambe’s face was photoshopped onto Mount Rushmore, and a petition to make Harambe a Pokemon has more than 80,000 signatures.
The “why” is complicated here, but as we’ve explained before, many of the Harambe jokes draw life from the Internet’s endless, earnest outrage cycle. The more sophisticated iteration of the meme is engaged in a dark mockery of that phenomenon, although there are obviously other versions of the meme out there.
But the Harambe meme has strayed from the confines of those who find the joke funny. The Cincinnati Zoo’s Twitter account was unwillingly roped into it, as tweeting Harambe jokes at the zoo’s handle became something of a competitive sport over the summer. Pretty much anything the zoo tweeted drew hundreds of Harambe-related replies, which themselves were “liked” and retweeted by others, as Deadspin noted in a depressing look at what it must be like to run the zoo’s social media.
On Monday, the zoo asked the Internet to stop. “We are not amused by the memes, petitions and signs about Harambe,” Thane Maynard, Cincinnati Zoo director, said in an email to the Associated Press. “Our zoo family is still healing, and the constant mention of Harambe makes moving forward more difficult for us. We are honoring Harambe by redoubling our gorilla conservation efforts and encouraging others to join us.”
James Leggate, a columnist at the Cincinnati-based WCPO-TV, also called for an end to the Harambe jokes. He even made a Change.org petition asking the site itself to stop allowing so many joke petitions about Harambe. “Harambe was a well-respected gorilla in Cincinnati,” he wrote, “but the goofuses of the internet have tarnished his memory with their joke petitions.”
At this point, the anti-meme pushback seems to have encouraged the Harambe memers to step up their game. Even the zoo’s deleted Twitter account has now become fodder for another round of jokes: