Tag Archives: children

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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Princesses and Feminism

Full disclosure: I am a bit sick of Frozen. I thought it was ok, but I think I’ve read so many indulgent lifestyle articles in serious newspapers that talk endlessly about the author and their children that I’m just fatigued.

There was one that caught my attention this week, though, because I think it’s the peak of the trend: Peak Elsa, if you will: Jane Merrick in the Indepedent: Little Girls Dressing up as Elsa are the future of Feminism.

The future of feminism? Yes, Frozen was good in terms of bucking the traditional princess trend. It was actually about sisterhood instead, which made a nice change. It’s good for girls to aspire to be independent and strong, and not wait for a prince to save them. However, feminism is surely about more than your personal choices.

My neighbours on either side of me on my street have little girls who are obsessed, like every other little girl (and grown woman) with Frozen. Part of the reason I’m a bit ambivalent about the cartoon is because most mornings I am jolted awake by some discordant yelling singing of the theme song Let it Go as they get ready for school. Last weekend I got chatting to my neighbour about her home repairs. She remarked on how the women on my ethnically diverse and international London street, mostly single mothers, help each other out – from babysitting to house watching to school runs and all the little things that you need your neighbours to help with. I like to think I play my part.

I reflected on how wonderful it is when women work together; how each of us have such diverse stories and how much we all learn from each other. How we’re doing life together on this street. Those little girls dressed up as Elsa have an opportunity, living in one of London’s most diverse and not particularly affluent boroughs, to learn about issues to do with immigration, equal pay, refugees, childcare, the environment, human rights, homelessness, racial equality, and so much more. I hope that they learn not only that they aren’t little princesses that need saving, but how hard it is for the single mothers on the street to find affordable childcare. The immigrant stories of the women who weren’t born here and in some cases may have had their immigration status imperilled when their marriages broke down; access to services for refugee women – things that feminists should be fighting for. Women that other women should be taking up for.

Every street is different. But this is London; you don’t have to go far to find someone bumping up against an infrastructure that does women (and many men) no good. We need to dismantle it, smash it. Little girls can learn about it (and take part!) dressed up as Elsa; we just need to show them that it’s bigger than their lives; it’s about the women (and girls) who made that dress too.




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Second Chances

Every morning I wake up to the radio – either World Service or Radio 4. There’s something about the intimacy of radio that I find so much more affecting than TV, which seems more passive, somehow.

Usually I half listen as I get ready and dash out the door. But this morning a report on the release of child soldiers from a militant group in South Sudan made me sit down and listen to the very end. (It also made me cry, which is reassuring as a video of a panda playing with a ball yesterday left me unmoved. So I’m not stone cold to the bone, apparently.)

The children, as young as ten, were being released because of a deal struck between the militant group and the government. What was so arresting was the reporter’s description of the happy children going over to be received by UNICEF, still dressed in their fatigues. They sang, they danced. The reporter marvelled at how young they were…and how much younger they looked. It was a beautiful story of children getting another chance to be kids, to start their lives over. I cannot begin to fathom what they’ve seen and been forced to do.

A couple of days ago I read a blog by barrister Colin Yeo about how the good character requirement is being used to refuse citizenship to hundreds of children, including 25 children aged 10-13.

“What could the 25 children aged 10-13 have done to be refused on character grounds? Or, to look at it another way, what child can truly be said to to be of “good character” (the statutory requirement) at that age anyway?”

“Citizenship is turning into a key battleground for protecting individual rights. Citizens enjoy reasonable protection against arbitrary interference with their rights by the State. Non citizens do not. The State is responding by refusing citizenship to wider class of people and by taking it away from those it considers “fifth columnists”.” – Colin Yeo

All of these kids has their own story. Who knows what they’ve experienced? What can we say about their character at such a young age? And how can it count against them in a decision that will affect the rest of their lives?



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It is possible to oppose Israeli military action in Gaza without being anti-semitic, or denying the Holocaust, or approving of Hamas rockets being fired into Israel to harm innocent civilians.

It is possible to be horrified by the suffering in Gaza and angry at both the Israeli bombs and the Hamas militants who shelter among the innocent, drawing their fire.

It is possible to have complex feelings about what’s going on in the West Bank; many people do.

But some things are quite simple. Israel has a shield, while the people of Gaza are sitting ducks, utterly defenceless, with no open border to flee to safety in another country and no safe place to flee within Gaza where they can’t be bombed.

The majority of the occupants of Gaza are innocent children. They have nothing to protect them. Israel has nuclear weapons and the protection of the international community, most notably the US.

The stream of heartbreaking news out of Gaza is endless and awful. None of our hands are clean.

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Golden Miss

Golden Miss. Spinster. Mother. Daughter. Child-free. Childless. Leftover Women.

“All the daft categories, from “career bitch” to “tiger mother” to “spinster”, can’t sum up the complexities of how we live.” – Suzanne Moore

I agree with Suzanne Moore on this, and on her wider point that there doesn’t need to be animosity between mothers and those without children.

As an unmarried woman without children (still trying to navigate the childless/childfree thing)  I’m frequently appalled at the stories of exorbitant childcare and the conundrum that women who still want a career find themselves in, all too often working to pay someone else to look after their child, riddled with guilt at not being there and with barely any money leftover from their wage after paying nursery fees anyway. This isn’t just an issue for mothers, it’s an issue for all women. And it goes without saying that a woman’s worth should not be dependent on her use of her ovaries, but when you’re not a mother you become keenly aware of how public discussions on women’s issues often overlook you, even though your taxes count as much as anyone else’s.

There’s always an anecdote about smug mothers making women without children feel bad, or the reverse. And the icing on the cake? Scientists claim to have discovered that marriages without children are happier. How on earth do you measure that?


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