Handsome Harambe

In 1986, a five-year-old fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Jersey Zoo in the English Channel Islands. The male Silverback gorilla, Jambo, kept other gorillas at bay while he guarded the unconscious boy. Ultimately, two zoo employees (whose expertise was with birds) and EMT personnel, were able to rescue the boy after putting themselves at tremendous risk.

In 1996, a three-year-old climbed through a barrier and fell 20 feet into the gorilla enclosure at the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois. Binti Jua, an eight year old female gorilla, carried the unconscious boy away from the other gorillas in the enclosure to an area where rescuers waited.

Both children survived. Both gorillas lived.

Two days ago, a 450 pound Silverback gorilla, affectionately known as “Handsome Harambe,” was shot dead.

Experts resoundingly agree that the only recourse to secure the life and safety of the four-year-old — who “fell” into the enclosure, was to shoot and kill Harambe.

As furious as the public is about the killing of an innocent gorilla, most people — especially parents — have a hard time imagining a different solution once they picture their own child with the 450 pound primate.

Blaming the child would be irresponsible. Children at the age of four do not “fully” understand the concept of danger (or death).

The consensus is that the mother was negligent, and in some way should pay for the end result. The mother took to Facebook to post “As a society we are quick to judge how a parent could take their eyes off of their child. If anyone knows me, I keep a tight watch on my kids. Accidents happen…” She goes on to thank God. There is no mention of Harambe.

Perhaps the mother does in fact “keep a tight watch on her kids.” That said, if your child is with you in a relatively safe place, you can probably take your eyes off of him or her for a few seconds. You cannot, however, take your eyes off of a child for one second during a situation with high-risk potential — like at a gorilla exhibit in the zoo, and especially not after the child has expressed his desire to enter the habitat. If she could not hold her son’s hand and take a picture at the same time, then she cannot take a picture. Pure and simple.

Even when I cross the street with my eleven-year-old, I instinctively hold her hand while we cross. It’s what responsible parents do. Why? Because accidents happen.

For those who place blame on the zoo, I agree only to the extent that I neither visit nor believe zoos should exist at all. That aside, this is the first time the exhibit has experienced a breach since it opened in 1978. Moreover, the exhibit is inspected regularly by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and the USDA, and adheres to safety guidelines, according to the zoo. To that end, the zoo is not at fault.

When it comes to species in captivity, animal rights advocates make compelling arguments from both sides of the fence. May I humbly suggest that you take a look, and take a stand, for what makes sense to you.

While the treatment of the two boys in 1986 and 1996 dispelled the “King Kong” theory that gorillas will always be dangerous and ferocious, it did little to prevent the killing in Cincinnati.

Today we know that gorillas are self-aware, and that they love, laugh, play, and sing. We also know that they grieve. Harambe turned 17 just three days ago; but he will no longer feel any of these emotions. And we, and the two female gorillas that have been looking for him, will grieve.

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