Harambe, a 17 year old western lowland gorilla, was going about his usual business in Cincinnati Zoo when a 4 year old boy was able to get through a barrier and fell into the enclosure with him. What ensued was obvious panic from the mother but also from all those that were watching, with lots of shouting and screaming, and a 4 year old was left in a precarious position. The situation that ended with the death of Harambe, the worldwide unification of grief over his death and the vilification of the parents via the great social media.
What is so upsetting to most is that he was as defined by the IUCN Red List as a critically endangered species since 2007. Because of civil war, Ebola and hunting, some areas have had a decrease of up to 90%. Harambe was a gorilla that had been raised in captivity to help carry on the species through the captive breeding program. Cut down in his prime, due to a child finding his way into the enclosure. There have been calls that the child should have been left to be killed or that the mother should be executed, that the parents should lose custody of their kids; the parents are now being investigate by the police. I find it amazing how differently people treat these parents to that of a certain toddler left on her own in an apartment in a foreign country that was never seen again. There have been people eager to shout it was wrong that a species that is over populating the planet took precedence over one that is on the brink. Further, there have been calls speaking out against humanity for allowing such an iconic animal to be in a ‘concrete prison’.
As much as I am angry that such a beautiful creature died, I’m glad the child was safe because the alternative would have been much much worse for the future of conservation efforts and zoos. Should the parent/s been more watchful, yes. But then we weren’t there, the parent had other children they were dealing with when the child got through the fencing. It’s easy to levy blame when we only have a limited view as to what actually happened. Shouldn’t we also be questioning how it was that a child was able to climb through? This is not the first time a child has found it’s way into a gorilla enclosure; one only needs to search the internet for Jambo in 1986, or Binti Jua in 1996. So why in 2016 are these enclosures still not being made ‘idiot proof’ so that they protect seriously endangered animals from human children that don’t know better and parents that take their eye off the ball? It’s all very well to see so called experts saying Zoo’s aren’t babysitters, nobody really expects them to be, but they ARE responsible for the animals in their charge and should be protecting them from these events by installing adequate barriers. If from what I read is correct a 3 foot barrier with gaps is hardly what I would class as adequate with a class A mammal (these include gorillas, tigers, lions, bears). That was an
accident tragedy waiting to happen.
There are lots of reports saying that Harambe was trying to protect the child, I have since read reports that https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Famanda.odonoughue%2Fposts%2F1203379586363094&width=500“>refute this or say we simply don’t really know what his motives were, but that if nobody had done anything that child’s death was a very likely outcome. One thing everyone agrees on is that the clambering of people shouting and screaming would have made Harambe distressed. He was dragging the child around, which may have been posturing, it may also have been trying to pull the child away from the screams. Either way, that’s a concrete moat, filled with water. Hardly something a human child could cope for long with, as primates go we are a pretty flimsy species. They tried to lure him but he wasn’t interested, he had the child which was apparently all he was interested in. I’m glad they didn’t try and tranquillise him as that may have made the situation ten times worse. His already agitated state could have been exacerbated. The other cases of where children have fallen in with gorillas had different outcomes, but the gorillas acted differently too. Just as no two humans are the same, neither are gorillas. I wish the area had been cleared of spectators, to help lesson the tension that was mounting. In those last few minutes of Harambe’s life, the keepers and experts were the ones who had to gauge how dangerous his behaviour was, and how best to manage that danger. I do believe that the call to shoot Harambe wouldn’t have been an easy one, from what I know keepers often form close bonds to these animals.
Even though I feel the zoo should take the lion-share of the responsibility here, I really hope the backlash I am seeing online doesn’t affect the zoo and the important conservation work of zoo’s worldwide. It is easy for someone to stand behind a computer or in a picket line and say wild animals should not be cages, I used to be one of these. The saying about ‘a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing’ really does apply here, when you look further into it you realise the situation is far more complex. And yes in a perfect world no animal would ever be imprisoned in a man made habitat. But we are not living in a perfect world. Far from it. We screwed up that a long long time ago, and without the work of zoo’s in captive breeding programs we would likely have said good bye to many species by now. Even if you don’t like it, what they do is help preserve species in the hope that their natural habitats can be protected and extended so that they can live on. But they can’t do that without visitors, the visitors bring in much needed money to help keep these animals, to build enriched environments for them. Lets face it how many governments are going to be happy to pay in, and, how many of the average tax payers would be happy to pay an extra ten pounds or so out of their wages to keep them? There is also the fact that we as humans often don’t care about things we don’t see…out of sight out of mind. If you have animals where people can go and visit and learn about them, they are more likely to want to donate and do better ecologically for them.
As for the parents and child in this situation, I’m deeply worried for them. Their pictures and names have been blasted over the internet. I can’t even begin to imagine what life will be like for that little boy. We were all little once, we were all little shits once too. But he witnessed an animal being shot in front of him, that is going to have a big impact on that child. He will grow up to have that hanging over his head, that he was the reason Harambe died. Imagine one of your dumb mistakes as a 4 year old forever haunting you. His parents too will live with it. But I dare any parent to say they watch their kids 100% of the time, that they don’t have accidents, they don’t do stupid dangerous things. To say things like the child should’ve been allowed to die as we are over populating the earth is just so naive. The ramifications of such an act would be catastrophic to zoo’s around the world and to conservation, not to mention that animal would’ve been shot anyway. We can blame the parents and the zoo, and with the virtue of social media, turn it into a witch hunt. Relying on tiny snippets of third hand information. Will it bring Harambe back? No.
We should make a concerted effort to learn from this, making sure that it never happens again. We should visit zoo’s and campaign for better enclosures and enrichment, by raising money and awareness. It is my hope that the death of Harambe raises further awareness of the plight of his species. That it highlights that none of us are guilt free when it comes to their situation or any other endangered creature. That it empowers us to learn how we can help to alleviate the suffering of these creatures, be that recycling our mobile phones, using sustainable resources, not being so quick to throw things away but to reuse. And to donate where possible to charities that work to help educate people from the area to not hunt these animals for food or to destroy the habitats.