As an animal lover, I am saddened by the death of Harambe, the gorilla shot to death in an Ohio zoo after an unsupervised child climbed into his enclosure. I am saddened that an intelligent, social, complicated primate who is endangered because of the greed of humans has been lost. He had a life and a family. He was a creature of magnificent power and grace. And he had feelings and thoughts. We know that gorillas can learn sign language and can communicate in a lot of non-verbal ways. They are majestic animals and it is tragic in so many ways.

In addition, as someone who dedicates my life to the safety and dignity of all of the creatures on this planet, and as a vegan who does not go to zoos because there is so much objectionable about them, this saddens me deeply.

I know that tranquilizer darts exist and should have been used, but I also know that they are not positioned at every enclosure in any zoo. You don’t expect people to climb into enclosures…I feel horrible that Harambe died, but I also feel like it’s tragic enough. I can’t get outraged that darts are not available at every zoo and at every enclosure.

And to the person who had to make the heart-wrenching decision about what to do after 10 minutes of Harambe being with this child, my heart goes out to them too. Harambe is not a human we can talk to, and while there are some incidences where primates cared for children who had entered their enclosure by accident, gorillas are incredibly strong, incredibly territorial, and we don’t know how Harambe would have continued to behave. My heart goes out to the person who had to pull the trigger and kill this beautiful animal that was being cared for by the zoo. It’s horrible.

As a mother, my heart goes out to the mother and father of this child who spent 10 minutes wondering if their child was still alive. I cannot even imagine that terror.

I also know that sometimes as parents, especially if we have more than one child, we do not always know where they are. It’s just true. Anyone who says it’s not is probably not being entirely honest! I wish I could say I always knew where my 4 year olds were, but I admit that sometimes you get distracted and something happens and you can’t believe you don’t know where they are and you wonder how long since you last saw them! It rarely happened to me personally, but I know it does happen. And did it ever happen to me at a place with gigantic animals around? No, but I’m sure many “good” parents have had that happen. I’m trying to be compassionate here.

I can’t speak to this parent’s negligence. I really can’t. I know everyone thinks they can, but I don’t know them and I don’t know their life. I don’t know their kids. It’s not helpful to go there in my opinion. (Just today, it was announced that the parents would not be criminally charged/held accountable for the gorilla’s death.)

I do think – and this is just my opinion – the parents should in some way be held accountable for this. An animal died because they lost track of their child long enough for him to climb into this enclosure.  He didn’t fall; he climbed. And I would think they would feel accountable in some way. Wouldn’t you? Like, “Oh my gosh. I am so sorry…I lost track of my kid and a gorilla had to be shot, I’m sorry. What can we do?!” But that’s just me.

I heard that, in her statement on Facebook, the mother thanked God for protecting her child. As a religious person, I don’t really understand this. If God is picking and choosing in this way, we are all in trouble.

But that aside, I don’t know that I have anything new to add to this. I just wanted to put my thoughts out there as a vegan, as a mom, and as a person who believes that sometimes when something is just crappy, there’s not much to do to make ourselves feel better. We can’t bring Harambe back. Zoos won’t close because of this. We can’t assume every parent in every zoo will or won’t watch their kids.

I hope we can move on from this topc soon. There’s more in this world waiting for us; I’m sure of it.

Grok With Us:

  • Should the parents of the child be held morally or financially responsible for the death of this animal? 
  • This situation has provoked strong emotional reactions from parents and non-parents alike. But now that there’s no way to bring harambe back, is it worth trying to get the parents to pay for his death?  And would we be doing it from a place of emotional reaction or from a sense of reason and justice? 
  • Have you ever lost track of a child or has anyone ever lost track of you in a public place?  What happened, how did it feel, and how did that experience change you or your attitude toward child supervision?
  • Should the zoo taken more protective measures when these incidents are so rare? How can we protect against every possibility of people being unaware of where their kids are?