The Loss of Harambe is a Terrible Tragedy

This past Saturday marked the loss of Harambe, a 17-year-old silverback gorilla, one of less than 900 remaining in the world.  Held captive at the Cincinnati Zoo, Harambe's life was sacrificed when a 4-year-old boy entered his enclosure.

RIP Harambe // Plant Based Bride

Reading about this utterly avoidable tragedy has left me shocked and devastated.  Harambe's only crime was existing in a world in which his life has no value.  The boy chose the enter the enclosure, which should have been impossible with better barriers and child supervision.  

It is believed that the 400 pound gorilla was in fact trying to protect the boy from the massive screaming crowd at the enclosure's edge.  Videos have emerged in which Harambe and the boy held hands, and onlookers have stated that Harambe did not engage in any threatening behaviour towards the boy.

It may be impossible to get the whole story, but this is what we have so far:

Once upon a time there was a gorilla named Harambe, one of the very few remaining mountain gorillas in the world.  He was born in a zoo in Texas where he lived for 16 years before being transferred to the Cincinnati zoo in 2015.  

The day after his 17th birthday the zoo was crowded for the memorial day weekend.  The mother of the boy in question was caring for several young children and bystanders overheard the boy talking about wanting to go into the water (a moat within the exhibit) and his mother telling him no.

Another woman at the zoo tried to grab the boy before he went in, but wasn't able to.  The boy fell into the water, and Harambe, who was in a cave nearby, came out to investigate.

Bystanders began to scream as the gorilla stood over the boy, seemingly protecting him from the crowd above.  He then proceeded to drag him out of the water and away from the crowd by the leg, an act viewed as violence by the fire department's first responders, but actually a common behaviour for gorillas and their young and likely an act of protection.

The boy clearly did not feeel threatened, as he reached his hand out for Harambe's, which the gorilla took.

The boy was still sitting between Harambe's legs when the gorilla was shot and killed.

The boy was returned to his mother and sent to the hospital with no critical injuries, and an endangered species became even more endangered thanks to the most dangerous species on the planet.

Since then there has been a public outcry.  How could this have happened?

The mother released a statement on Facebook: 'My son is safe and was able to walk away with a concussion and a few scrapes... no broken bones or internal injuries.  As a society we are quick to judge how a parent could take their eyes off of their child and if anyone knows me I keep a tight watch on my kids. Accidents happen but I am thankful that the right people were in the right place today.'  

A bystander said: 'This was an open exhibit! Which means the only thing separating you from the gorillas, is a 15 ish foot drop and a moat and some bushes!   This mother was not negligent and the zoo did an awesome job handling the situation! Especially since that had never happened before!'

Many, however, are arguing just that - that the boy's parents are at fault.

A petition calling for the parents and the zoo to be held accountable has almost 40,000 signatures (you can sign it here).  They state on their page:  'In light of the recent tragedy at the Cincinnati Zoo in the death of Western Lowland Gorilla Harambe and the enormous loss of this CRITICALLY ENDANGERED animal, we would like to pass Harambe's Law, so there are legal consequences when an endangered animal is harmed or killed due to the negligence of visitors.  If this law is enacted, it will not only protect the animals, but will hold individuals accountable for actions resulting in harm or death of an animal. '

Even the zoo director has admitted that Harambe was not attacking the boy.  He stated:   'You're talking about an animal that's over 400 pounds and extremely strong. So no, the child wasn't under attack but all sorts of things could happen in a situation like that. He certainly was at risk,'

He also explained that tranquilizing Harambe was not an option, as it would not have an immediate effect and that 'The impact from the dart could agitate the animal and cause the situation to get much worse.'

So what could have been done differently?

Well, first of all, there is the enclosure.  

'Yet again, captivity has taken an animal's life.  The gorilla enclosure should have been surrounded by a secondary barrier between the humans and the animals to prevent exactly this type of incident.' Primatologist Julia Gallucci, through PETA.

Dr. Samantha Russak, a zookeeper, stated: 'There really is no way to combat the current level of stupidity of the general human population. You can put up multiple fences and gates and electric wire and there will still be someone who is determined enough (or in this case, small enough) to get into an enclosure. This child had to go under bars (i.e. protective barrier #1), through electric wire (i.e. protective barrier #2), and down into a moat (i.e. protective barrier #3) to reach the gorillas...  And as a corollary to this point, zoos have an ongoing battle trying to design enclosures that are best suited for the animal, while still ensuring the safety of both animals and the public, and also allowing the public to view the animals. Coming up with the perfect enclosure that meets all of these needs is not an easy task.'

So there were some 'barriers' in place, but clearly they were not particularly effective.  While I sympathize with Dr. Russak's statement that zoos struggle to design effective enclosures for both the animals and the humans paying to stare at them, safety should be their number one concern.  They KNOW that children small enough to get through the bars will be visiting.  They should have had the foresight to prevent it.

Or perhaps, animals shouldn't be held captive for human entertainment in the first place.

I have already written an entire post about zoos (read it here) but feel that some points deserve to be reiterated here.

  1. Animals do not exist for our entertainment.
  2. No one deserves to be chained or caged for their entire lives.
  3. No individual should be killed for who or what they are.

Harambe never should have been in a zoo to begin with.  He was born in a zoo in Texas.  He lived his entire life in captivity.  He was described as 'very intelligent. His mind was going constantly. He was just such a sharp character.' By Jerry Stones, who raised Harambe at the Gladys Porter Zoo, in Bronwsville, Texas.  He deserved a life of freedom, in his natural habitat.  The ability to form family bonds and find purpose and happiness.  

Instead, he was kept in a cage for humans to gawk at for 17 years and then shot for trying to protect a little boy.

But what about the boy's parents?  Shouldn't they have been the ones protecting their son?

It would have taken more than a couple of seconds for the boy to get into the enclosure.  His parents should have been watching him, especially after he repeatedly stated that he wanted to go into the water.

More from Dr. Samantha Russak: 'Lack of parenting and human stupidity once again causes the death of a magnificent, innocent animal. When will we stop destroying everything on this planet?'

Harambe was killed because of the negligence of this boy's parents and bystanders.  Of course no one would have wanted this little boy to be hurt or even killed, but he would have been safe had he been properly supervised. 

Why was Harambe shot rather than tranquilized?

This is not the first time that children have found their way into an enclosure with a gorilla.  In both the 1986 and 1996 cases, the gorillas were not killed AND the children were rescued.

So why didn't they tranquilize Harambe rather than shooting him?

As we learned from the zoo director, tranquilizers do not take effect immediately:  '...getting hit by a dart would not make a 400 pound animal very happy, so it is likely that he would take out aggression on an object nearby, in this case the boy. And even if he didn't get angry at being darted, if he fell on top of the boy, that is 400 pounds of solid muscle now crushing and suffocating a 4 year old boy.' -Dr. Samantha Russak.

My question is, wouldn't there be an equal risk with a gunshot wound?  Being shot is not necessarily immediately fatal, and couldn't that severe pain have served to aggravate Harambe even more than a tranquilizer dart?

Further, a gorilla who has been shot is equally as likely to fall on the boy sitting at his feet as one who has been tranquilized, crushing the boy with his 400 pound weight.

As I see it, shooting Harambe was equally risky for the boy, and far worse for the gorilla.

Zoo director Maynard said: 'We are all devastated that this tragic accident resulted in the death of a critically-endangered gorilla. This is a huge loss for the Zoo family and the gorilla population worldwide.' 

Perhaps they should have done more to protect Harambe, rather than throwing his life away.

As usual, the outrage at the death of Harambe, a western lowland gorilla deemed critically endangered by the World Wildlife Fund, far outweighs that of the animals suffering in the meat, egg, dairy, and fur industries (among many others) every single day.  

No life is worth more than another, and while Harambe's death is a significant and heartbreaking loss, so are the lives of the cows, pigs, and chickens taken in devastating numbers.

Perhaps the awareness raised by this event will allow more people to open their eyes to animal suffering and to do their part to end it.

RIP, Harambe.  You will be missed.

Until next time,

RIP Harambe
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