As many of you know, a 4-year-old boy, with his mother’s attention distracted, went through the fence separating the gorilla enclosure from the visitors at the Cincinnati Zoo last Saturday. The child then made his way through the vegetation, falling into a deep moat around the gorilla space. Hearing the splash, a male silverback gorilla named Harambe jumped into the moat, grabbed the child, and dragged it around. Some of the dragging was violent, and zoo workers decided that the only recourse was to shoot the gorilla. (Tranquilizer darts would have taken effect too slowly, and might have enraged the animal.) Here’s a video of part of the incident:
There have been a lot of protests, with animal-rights advocates second-guessing the zoo (why didn’t they tranquilize the animal?) or urging that the mother be charged with negligence. While I am deeply upset at the whole episode, I don’t see a viable alternative to the zoo’s decision. A male silverback—and this one could crush a coconut with his bare hands—is immensely strong, and could have killed the child in an instant. Would it have been judicious to wait and see what happened to the child? Perhaps it could have been rescued, as was a child who fell into a gorilla cage at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago (this was in 1996) and was actually handed to the keepers by a gorilla who cradled the unconscious child solicitously. But that gorilla behaved very differently from Harambe.
Should the zoo have killed the animal? Given its behavior, yes. Should the mother be charged with negligence? I don’t think so: she was tending three other children, including a babe in arms. Kids get away sometimes.
I always hate it when animals are punished for behaving according to their genes and environments, and in so doing harm humans. Killing tigers and lions that have eaten a person always disturbs me greatly, and I’m not sure what to think about that. Nor do I know what steps should be taken here; the Zoo is reviewing the enclosure layout. What I do think, however, is that we need to stop keeping great apes in captivity unless they’re kept to breed and release into the wild. I know their habitat is shrinking, but remember that these are social animals evolved to roam in the wild. They are not exhibits to gawk at.
Oh, and I have one other beef. As People Magazine reports, the boy’s mother said this:
Michelle Gregg defended herself in a now-deleted Facebook post, writing: “God protected my child until the authorities were able to get to him. My son is safe and was able to walk away with a concussion and a few scrapes… no broken bones or internal injuries.”
Seriously—God protected the child? Why didn’t God keep the kid from jumping into the moat?