On the afternoon of May 28, a gorilla named Harambe was shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Some of you may or may not know that I myself am from Ohio, born in Columbus and raised in Cleveland, and I personally know many animal-lovers that frequent the Cincinnati Zoo. I’ve had friends posting photos on social media of Harambe that they took personally, so this tragic incident hit pretty close to home.
To briefly summarize, a little boy of four years old wandered past what was supposedly a number of barriers, ultimately falling 10 feet into the moat surrounding the gorilla’s exhibit. Harambe then proceeded to pick the boy up and drag him through the shallow water, in a seemingly non-violent way.
There are a lot of opinions swirling about as to whether or not Harambe was protecting the boy or preparing to kill him, and considering that I am not an expert on primate behavior I’m not comfortable arguing one side or the other.
I do know that male primates are not as nurturing as females, and I know that the crowd of people screaming like lunatics wasn’t helping anything, but beyond that I don’t think anybody can say with any degree of certainty that the gorilla would or would not have killed the boy (despite what zoo staff members tell themselves to get to sleep).
Another key point, and the one I find most troubling, in this series of events is whether or not the mother of the boy that fell was being neglectful. This is an issue that I do feel qualified to weigh in on, not only growing up in a family surrounded by little ones, but as a professional child care provider myself.
According to witness accounts, that mother was at the zoo with not just one, but “several” children that afternoon. The boy was overheard telling the mother that he wanted to go and play in the exhibit while she was distracted taking care of one of the other kids.
Rather than actually making a point of preventing this from happening though, she simply said “no” and told him to hold her pocket. Her pocket. Not a hand, not a stroller or wagon, her pocket. People have spoken out defending this mother and that is incredibly frustrating to me.
Yes, even people caring for small children have to look away to tie their shoe or help another child from time to time. I get it, I’ve done it 500 times myself, but what I don’t understand is the fact that this child was talking about potentially life-threatening behavior and she couldn’t be bothered to turn around and actually watch him or remove him from the area.
The woman can be heard in the video repeatedly saying, “mommy is here, mommy is here,” but where was she two minutes before that when her four year old was crawling through railings that have managed to prevent this kind of thing from happening for decades?
I am an animal lover and I have visited a number of zoos in my lifetime, even donating spare change to conservation programs, and yet when something like this happens I can’t help but feel like a dirty hypocrite.
These animals don’t belong in captivity. We destroy their homes, put them on display for entertainment and a profit, and then shoot them because we couldn’t be bothered to build a safe enough exhibit and some woman was too busy to watch her kid.
I recognize that there are bigger things happening in the world; children starving, soldiers dying, terrorist attacks, etc. I am not ignorant to those things, but I am also not ignorant to the intense, irreversible damage that human beings are doing to this planet.
Western-lowland gorillas are considered a critically endangered species with less than 180,000 left on the planet. This was a male capable of fathering numerous offspring in the years to come, and his loss is a tragedy unto itself.
I’m not saying that they should have let the boy die, that much is obvious. I’m saying that Harambe should never have been in that situation in the first place.