Tuesday, May 31, 2016


17 year old Harambe

Cincinnati zookeepers were forced to shoot and kill 17 year old Harambe, a silverback gorilla, after a three year old boy gave his parents the slip and fell into the animal's enclosure on Saturday. 

Cell phone video made it possible for the world at large to view the incident shortly after it happened.

Headlines and news reports were peppered with this story over the weekend and the public was quick to jump on the opinion band-wagon. Zoo Director, Thane Maynard, reported that the decision to shoot the gorilla was the only choice. Animal experts Jack Hanna and Jeff Corwin both concurred that there was no other decision to be made. Ron McGill, communication director of Zoo Miami (who loaned Harambe to the Cincinnati Zoo), said that this was a tragedy for all concerned; that killing the gorilla saved the child's life. Had a tranquilizer dart been used, it would not have been instantly effective but instead would have aggravated the animal and the child would have been the recipient of the gorilla's displaced aggression. 

This incident is tragic on all levels. After the child fell into the enclosure the chain of events could only be played out as they were. There is no room for should-a could-a would-a's. The child's life was in danger. Onlookers yelled and screamed, causing accelerated angst for the animal. Knowing that a tranquilizer dart would not immediately sedate him but would increase its anxiety (and possibly cause the child to be seriously injured or killed), the zookeepers had only one choice.

As a parent of a small child who once launched himself out of a shopping cart, landing on the store's cement floor in a matter of seconds, I can totally relate to the shock and judgmental reaction directed at the child's parents by onlookers. 

Looking to place blame is an all too common reaction these days. It somehow gives us a place to park our disbelief and outrage. Blaming the parents, the enclosure, the zoo personnel or questioning the choice of killing over tranquilizing will not change what happened on Saturday. This story has a sad and bittersweet ending...a magnificent animal was destroyed to save a child's life.

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