The following video shows Harambe before the incident.
I feel I’ve been silent about this long enough. Harambe’s death brings so much sadness and frustration to my heart, I need to write about it. Zoo animals have few choices. They have no voice. This post is for Harambe.
I’m making a conscious effort to refrain from criticizing the mother of the little boy who managed to get into the gorilla’s home. This is not because I believe her to be free of responsibility. But focusing on the parental supervision issue distracts from a bigger issue.
Zoos have a responsibility to keep both animals and humans safe. A child should not be able to get into a zoo animal’s living space.
Yes, the Cincinnati Zoo recently made an effort to improve safety by increasing the height of the fence around the gorilla habitat by a few inches as shown in this report, but it’s not enough. A child could still climb over the new fence. A six foot tall fence, with strategically placed openings for viewing, would be more likely to prevent another tragedy. When we weigh the risk of harm to an animal or a human against the desire to view the animals without any obstruction, what’s more important?
Zoos as we know them are not ideal. I question whether it’s ethical to confine animals in such settings for the benefit of human pleasure and human profit.
The following New York Times article explores whether we should have gorillas in zoos at all.
In the above article, Dr. Watts, a primatologist at Yale University, explains Harambe’s behavior. He told the reporter he wishes he could have been there at the Cincinnati zoo during the incident.
“He would have volunteered to enter the enclosure and assume a submissive fetal position on the floor to try drawing the gorilla’s attention from the boy.”
My sadness multiplies when I watch the videos of Harambe with the boy. The gorilla appears to be taking a protective stance over the child. Harambe is not sure what to do. Yes, he does drag the boy around, but that happens after minutes of being screamed at. I have not found any accounts of attempts being made to distract Harambe, or bargain with him, which should have been the first thing to try.
Is it asking too much to have people trained to handle these kinds of situations in more than one way?
Is it asking too much to protect gorillas and other intelligent, endangered animals from exploitation and deadly risks?
Is it asking too much to make animal habitats humane and childproof? That would depend on your definition of humane. But certainly they can be made childproof.
I believe that in a civilized society, zoos as they exist today, will be a thing of the past. We CAN find ways to keep animals safe in humane preserves and sanctuaries, where children and unstable people can not get to them. I’m glad the boy who infiltrated the gorilla’s home was not seriously hurt. But my heart breaks for Harambe and his family.