(Courtesy Cincinatti Zoo)
There has been a huge public outcry over the shooting death of Harambe, the majestic, seventeen-year old silverback gorilla at the Cincinatti Zoo. Let me start off by saying that my family and I are ardent animal-lovers. We love our dog and we travel the globe to view (not kill) animals in their natural habitats. Having said this, I believe that the zoo was justified in the action that it took. Here are the facts of the case: A little boy, perhaps three or four years of age, climbed into the gorilla enclosure and was being tossed and dragged through the water by Harambe. The gorilla may have been playing with the child or trying to protect him, but no one can be sure what his intentions were. The gorilla handlers successfully called two female gorillas out of the area, but Harambe did not heed their commands. The zoo had two choices — neither of them good. The first choice was to shoot the gorilla with a tranquilizer dart, which would have agitated the gorilla and taken too long to take effect, possibly leading to the death of the child. The second choice was to shoot the gorilla to death and rescue the child. The zoo staff chose to put the life of the child before the life of the gorilla, a choice that while tragic, was the right one to make. I am saddened by Harambe’s death, but I completely understand why this was the only sound option.
People have been calling for the arrest of the parents and have been vilifying them in the press and on social media. Whether the parents are awful – I have no reason to believe that they are -is irrelevant. The gorilla enclosure should have been impenetrable — no ands, ifs, or buts — especially to children. There should have been absolutely no way to get into that exhibit. Children can tear away from any kind of parent — bad, good or great — for the seconds that it took for this child to climb into the unsecure exhibit. The zoo needs to re-evaluate its safety barriers and upgrade them so that accidents like this can never happen again.
We should mourn the loss of Harambe. We should question the legitimacy of zoos that fence in animals. However, we should not lay blame on the parents. I have read posts by people claiming to be super-parents who could never have an accident occur on their watches. I believe that this accident could have happened to any child or any parents. Let’s hope that better barriers are built to prevent future tragedies.