Gorillas and Kindness – being human

I am the last person who should write about parenting *waves at unused ovaries, ponders whether I’ll ever get to use them* but two posts about the Cincinatti Zoo incident – in which a little boy fell into the gorilla enclosure and the gorilla was shot dead – pierced through all the bluster, noise and self-righteousness about this.

They were compassionate. For the parents, the child and the gorilla and his keepers at the zoo.

So much of the internet debate has been blaming the mother like the father didn’t exist, or blaming the father for being a convicted felon (hello, Daily Mail) or declaring that the kid should have been shot instead of the gorilla (oh, you crazy environmentalists). Some suggested that the zoo over reacted and that the gorilla was protecting the child. Then there’s the racial aspect of the black parents. As another poster on facebook wisely pointed out, accidents happen – a la the (White) McCanns – they (eventually) got a lot of sympathy for their daughter’s disappearance but I don’t know if this family will.

So. Much. Noise.

If there is one thing that’s supposed to set us apart from other animals it’s meant to be our consciousness, the way that we think, the complexity of us. And yet so often we want to boil things down to the essentials and then jump up on the high ground we’ve claimed for ourselves.

So here’s what I think: it was a tragic accident. I am not a parent but you don’t need much of an imagination to conceive how the parents must have felt to see their baby in the gorilla enclosure. I feel sorry for the gorilla, an endangered species and a wild animal, who, given that he is still a wild animal, is unpredictable and so I think the zoo made the right call. I feel sorry for the person who had to make that call though and for the person who had to pull the trigger – no doubt someone who worked closely with that beautiful animal.

The most beautiful post I read was this by Constance Hall:

“..what I really wanted to say to you is not that “I understand”, not that “we have all been there”, not that “it actually could have happened to anyone” because it could have… But what I really want to say to you is… Are you ok? Because I saw the video footage yesterday and I must say, I have barely recovered and that isn’t even my child.” – Constance Hall

The simplest, kindest question we can ever ask another human being (and really, really listen for the answer): Are you ok?

And then there was this thoughtful post from an ex-gorilla keeper, Amanda O’Donoughue, who called the whole sorry saga “a tragedy all round”

“I have watched this video over again, and with the silverback’s postering [sic], and tight lips, it’s pretty much the stuff of any keeper’s nightmares, and I have had MANY while working with them. This job is not for the complacent. Gorillas are kind, curious, and sometimes silly, but they are also very large, very strong animals. I always brought my OCD to work with me. checking and rechecking locks to make sure my animals and I remained separated before entering to clean.

I keep hearing that the Gorilla was trying to protect the boy. I do not find this to be true. Harambe reaches for the boys hands and arms, but only to position the child better for his own displaying purposes. Males do very elaborate displays when highly agitated, slamming and dragging things about. Typically they would drag large branches, barrels and heavy weighted balls around to make as much noise as possible. Not in an effort to hurt anyone or anything (usually) but just to intimidate. It was clear to me that he was reacting to the screams coming from the gathering crowd.

Harambe was most likely not going to separate himself from that child without seriously hurting him first (again due to mere size and strength, not malicious intent) Why didn’t they use treats? well, they attempted to call them off exhibit (which animals hate), the females in the group came in, but Harambe did not. What better treat for a captive animal than a real live kid!

They didn’t use Tranquilizers for a few reasons, A. Harambe would’ve taken too long to become immobilized, and could have really injured the child in the process as the drugs used may not work quickly enough depending on the stress of the situation and the dose B. Harambe would’ve have drowned in the moat if immobilized in the water, and possibly fallen on the boy trapping him and drowning him as well.

Many zoos have the protocol to call on their expertly trained dart team in the event of an animal escape or in the event that a human is trapped with a dangerous animal. They will evaluate the scene as quickly and as safely as possible, and will make the most informed decision as how they will handle the animal.

I can’t point fingers at anyone in this situation, but we need to really evaluate the safety of the animal enclosures from the visitor side. Not impeding that view is a tough one, but there should be no way that someone can find themselves inside of an animal’s exhibit.

I know one thing for sure, those keepers lost a beautiful, and I mean gorgeous silverback and friend. I feel their loss with them this week. As educators and conservators of endangered species, all we can do is shine a light on the beauty and majesty of these animals in hopes to spark a love and a need to keep them from vanishing from our planet. Child killers, they are not. It’s unfortunate for the conservation of the species, and the loss of revenue a beautiful zoo such as Cinci will lose. tragedy all around.” – Amanda O’Donoughue

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