The shooting of the gorilla caused uproar on social media after a four-year-old boy fell into his enclosure.
The gorilla was shown dragging the boy through water in the enclosure — but people have also pointed to footage where the gorilla is seemingly holding the boy’s hand.
Defenders of Harambe have said holding the child’s hand indicated his good intentions.
Former zookeeper and gorilla handler Amanda O’Donoughue explained that Harambe’s behaviour was not symbolic of his desire to protect the child but really the “stuff of any keeper’s nightmares”.
O'Donoughue says the gorilla was actually positioning the child as a display of intimidation.
"I keep hearing that the Gorilla was trying to protect the boy. I do not find this to be true. Harambe reaches for the boys hands and arms, but only to position the child better for his own displaying purposes," she said.
Her insights came through a Facebook post that has since gone viral with over half a million shares.
The former zookeeper said the potentially confusing behaviour was actually attributable to a gorilla's pattern of bluffing or intimidating threats.
"An adult male silverback gorilla has one job, to protect his group. He does this by bluffing or intimidating anything that he feels threatened by," she said.
O'Donoughue shed further light on the body language displayed by Harambe during the incident, describing it as a nightmare waiting to happen.
"I have watched this video over again, and with the silverback's postering, and tight lips, it's pretty much the stuff of any keeper's nightmares, and I have had MANY while working with them," she said.
The zookeeper said that although gorillas were considered the "gentle giants" of the animal kingdom, their sheer size and strength classed them in the most dangerous categories of mammals.
Watch the footage of Harambe and the child. Post continues after video...
O'Donoughue also shared how keepers in accredited zoos like Cincinnati were not allowed within gorilla enclosures.
"While working in an AZA accredited zoo with Apes, keepers DO NOT work in contact with them. Meaning they do NOT go in with these animals," she said.
The fact that the child was able to access the enclosure was another point that O'Donoughue felt needed to be addressed.
"I can't point fingers at anyone in this situation, but we need to really evaluate the safety of the animal enclosures from the visitor side," she said.
"Not impeding that view is a tough one, but there should be no way that someone can find themselves inside of an animal's exhibit."
Famed primatologist Jane Goodall also responded to the incident but had a different view, comparing Harambe's actions to that of a gorilla who has helped a child in the past.
“It looked as though the gorilla was putting an arm round the child — like the female who rescued and returned the child from the Chicago exhibit,” she said.
The incident Goodall most likely refers to is when a child fell into a gorilla exhibit at a zoo in Brookfield near Chicago in 1996 before being cradled to safety by the female gorilla.
In an email to the director of the Cincinnati Zoo, Thane Maynard, Goodall went on to ask how the other gorillas had reacted to the loss of Harambe, suggesting they would be grieving his loss.