I haven’t totally reconciled myself to the need for zoos to exist in our society, whether for research purposes or entertainment. There just seems to be something wrong about placing animals in pseudo-real environments, whether for a well-intentioned reason or not. Perhaps it’s because I myself hate to be fenced in, and naturally project my feelings onto something that so obviously does not belong where it’s been placed.
I also agree with my husband, who summed it up perfectly: Circuses and zoos were created for entertainment before the advent of television. In this Digital Age especially, when we can watch most animals in their natural environment via hidden camera, GoPro, and other means, why do we still need circuses or zoos?
However, my feelings shouldn’t be taken into account by anyone when it comes to what happened with a wayward child and Harambe the silverback gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo this past weekend. And guess what? Your opinions shouldn’t matter either. The truth is, an accident happened, the death of a child was a very real possibility, and zoo officials made the decision they felt they needed to make with very little time to make it.
I had my own knee-jerk opinion when I first heard the story, but then I read and/or viewed several news articles, an interview with the man who raised Harambe, a letter posted by a former zookeeper, parts of a Facebook post from the mom, eyewitness accounts, and a few other viewpoints from one person or another. Perhaps the only indictment should be levied against the zoo, which should have had more than a protective railing around the gorilla enclosure. However, enclosures are built to keep people safe from the animals housed inside, and NOT vice versa. There is really no obligation on the zoo to protect people from their own stupidity.
People want to blame the mom. If she was on her phone or talking to somebody and totally ignoring her child, then I’d agree with them wholeheartedly. After all, we’ve all seen parents like that or even been with parents like that, whose total disconnection and disregard has forced us to watch their kids as well as our own. But not one report has said that’s what happened here.
As the parent of two kids, I know well what it’s like to have one who needed watching all of the time when she was younger. My daughter’s desire for exploration often trumped anything we would say to her about holding our hand, paying attention, not wandering off. I once took her on a playdate in a friend’s backyard, knowing that it was fully enclosed by 7-foot fencing, with no way to get out except through the one door right near me, which had a lock that no child could reach to open. She still managed to temporarily disappear from sight, only to be found under the deck, chewing on a hosta leaf.
Of course, that’s not to say that I’d have taken my eyes, or hand, off of her at a busy zoo over a holiday weekend. However, I can absolutely understand how it happens. One split second is all it takes, and they’re gone baby gone. It’s the stuff of nightmares. Them entering an animal enclosure, and then getting shaken around by a 400-pound wild animal, is also the stuff of nightmares. And then, after that, receiving death threats and more — being vilified at home, at work, and online — that’s more than the stuff of nightmares. That’s simply beyond all imagining.
This is society, as usual, going way off the deep end. We wring our hands and point fingers of blame for the death of one extinct animal, while continuing to pursue the habits and pleasures that lead to many more animal deaths and environmental losses, every single day. The difference is that this death was visible.
Humanity is stunning in its capacity to only see as far as the end of its nose. In an age when public indignation is the new bloodsport, we can react angrily to the death of Harambe, Cecil, and so many others, while doing nothing to prevent the same thing from happening, again and again and again, in the future. We sit behind a computer screen at home with our righteousness, feeling proud of ourselves, ready to rally behind the next public outcry.
People look at Harambe’s behavior on YouTube videos and say, “Look! He was protecting the little boy. There was no need to shoot him.” They assign him human traits such as compassion because it’s what they want to believe. It’s happened before, in other incidents, where gorillas did protect children. But this was a wild animal, not a human, and there simply was no way of knowing how he’d act. Even the zookeepers who cared for him never made close contact with him; instead, doing everything through protective barriers.
I’m an animal lover and former animal rescuer — I get it. We never want an animal to die, especially because of human error. But that doesn’t mean we should grant humanity to Harambe and not to an errant mom who made a mistake.
We all want happy endings. But we don’t always get them. Sometimes lessons are simply learned the hard way.
It comes down to this: Accidents happen. Bad things happen. Life often has unfair repercussions.
And sometimes, as much as we want them to be, nobody’s to blame.
©2016 Rachel L. MacAulay All Rights Reserved