It’s really difficult to watch the video footage of a gorilla dragging a child through knee-deep water at the Cincinnati zoo. As a mom, it makes me feel like having a heart attack.
An emergency zoo response team shot the gorilla once they arrived on the scene. The response from some? Rage at the child’s mother for her “poor parenting” and at the zoo for killing the 450-pound male gorilla, named Harambe. No, seriously:
Already, there is a petition calling for #JusticeForHarambe over on Change.org that has more than 144,000 signatures at the time of publishing this article. The petition specifically calls for the parents of the 4-year-old boy who fell over the barrier into the exhibit to be held accountable for Harambe’s death.
‘We the undersigned want the parents to be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life,’ the petition reads. ‘We the undersigned feel the child’s safety is paramount in this situation. We believe that this negligence may be reflective of the child’s home situation.’ …
The petition has been up for less than 48 hours, and a Facebook group, also called Justice for Harambe, currently has more than 56,000 members.
These people are holding a vigil for the gorilla. Not ironically. Apparently this tweet isn’t ironic, either.
In a statement, park director Thane Maynard explained why the response team shot the gorilla instead of tranquilizing him: “tranquilizers do not take effect for several minutes and the child was in imminent danger. On top of that, the impact from the dart could agitate the animal and cause the situation to get much worse.” The child’s mother said he suffered a concussion and scrapes from his encounter with the animal, who had not obeyed keepers’ commands to retreat to his cage, as the other gorillas had, when the child fell into his moat. God knows what else could have happened had the gorilla been enraged by a tranquilizer dart or approached by more people.
People Are More Important than Animals
It’s easier to understand why a sizeable number of people could watch those videos and conclude that zookeepers could somehow have fanagled the little boy away from the gorilla without having to kill him if you know that a third of Americans, up from a quarter of Americans in 2008, think animals “should have the same rights as people.” Barna research has also shown that growing numbers of people think animals and humans are morally equivalent.
Well, we’re not. Even though this is slipping away, most Americans still call themselves Christians. That religion teaches that human beings are above animals in value (although Christianity also inverts the conventional understanding of power, so that those who have more are bound to use it to serve and uplift; which in this case means people have a responsibility to use their higher status and abilities to serve and care for all creation) because we, not they, are made in God’s image. Even if you want to go from an evolutionary, might-makes-right perspective, human beings have over many centuries developed these tools called guns, and we use them for self-defense and species defense. If a gorilla is dragging around a little boy, you shoot the gorilla.
The Cincinnati Zoo made the right decision, and they should be commended for acting quickly to save a child’s life. All the sorts of people who refuse to eat from plastic containers that contain BPA, which has a far more tenuous connection to harming people than does facing a giant angry gorilla, should be stampeding the zoo with donations and social media acclaim.
They should also realize that zoos kill their own animals regularly just to keep genetic lines healthy, so while of course it’s unfortunate that an animal had to die Saturday, the truth is that life is full of tragedy, no matter how much we would rather delude ourselves than acknowledge this. We cannot always get a happy ending. Sometimes life presents difficult choices that involve tradeoffs, and sometimes those tradeoffs can be things like “Do we unleash nukes on Japan or pursue yet another land war among a population in which civilians will sell their lives dearly and many more on both sides are likely to die?” Luckily, the tradeoff in the Harambe situation wasn’t that big. Even more luckily, one of these creatures was able to walk away from this encounter alive.
Neither Parents Nor Government Can Control Everything
The other complaint is against the child’s mother. Ominously, some on social media are calling for the state to investigate the child’s parents because he once was able to slip away while at a zoo. Have these people ever been to a zoo? Because it’s obvious they’ve never had children.
I take my kids to our local zoo frequently during the summer. It’s a madhouse. Even on slow days it’s rather like visiting a theme park. There are people and sights and smells and activities everywhere, and the exhibits and configurations are constantly changing, so even if you’re a regular it’s an absolute sensory overload. Not to mention often hot, which makes for whinier, even more distractable kids. While you’re getting one a drink of water, even if it takes ten seconds, that’s long enough for his brother to punt a peacock. Not that mine have ever done that (the peacocks don’t let them get close enough).
If mom is rummaging in her bag to get a snack, even briefly, that is definitely long enough for a four-year-old to climb a three-foot fence and dart into a gorilla moat. If you don’t believe it, you don’t have enough experience with kids. Just think about what a difficult time you can have controlling yourself, and you’re an adult. Do you always pass up that second slice of cake? Have you never texted while driving, or driven exhausted? Yep, I thought so. Now expand your id by a factor of ten and reduce your years of practice with impulse control and cognitive ability to think about consequences of actions, which doesn’t fully mature until a person’s early twenties. And you get a four-year-old climbing into the gorilla cage.
I’m not saying the mother is not at least partially at fault here. Maybe she was staring at her phone. Maybe she was high. We don’t know. But we also don’t know enough to accuse her of negligence and send government agents into her home to investigate her parenting–unless we’re also about to send government agents into your home to raid the freezer and put you on a mandatory eating plan because you keep eating too much ice cream.
So we can demand that parents literally keep a hand on their child’s collar at all times until he’s 22, or we can stop being idiots and recognize that horrible accidents happen no matter how conscientious the parents or zoo. True story: Right as I was finishing this post, my toddler woke up, walked downstairs, and knocked a cup of water onto my keyboard. Thank goodness there were no gorillas nearby (although I nearly turned into one that second).
Want a Village? Be the Village
We can also realize that what parents need far more than they need finger-pointing is for community to step in and voluntarily assist in protecting kids from themselves. What were bystanders doing when a child climbed into the monkey cage? How is it that dozens of people were on hand to video a monkey thrashing a child, but dozens were not available to grab a kid’s arm as he vaulted a fence?
All the smug little finger-pointers thrashing this mom on social media should turn their fingers around for a second and realize that they can be a fabulous volunteer Child Protective Services that is actually on hand in times of need rather than giving what may be a perfectly good mother a lifelong nightmare and a criminal record, far after the point when intervention would have prevented a dangerous situation, all for looking in her purse at the wrong second.
If a little kid is vaulting the fence next to you at the zoo, grab that lil’ monkey’s arm. Look at him and say, “Hey! That’s not where you belong.” I’ve done it many times–pulled little stranger kids out of the path of cars in a parking lot, comforted strange little kids who were bawling their eyes out on the playground. Know why? Because I’m grateful when people do the same for me, and I’m paying it forward. If more people functioned as the voluntary village to help parents protect their kids, like good neighbors do, we would have far less demand for a coercive surveillance state.
Really, what people like this are demanding is that government do the job they should be doing. And they’re proud of themselves for shirking their duty to serve their community in ways big and small, because to them it’s just as noble to call for someone else to do something as it is to actually do that thing themselves. Well, they’re wrong. It’s shameful. Do-nothing hashtag activism is the lazy coward’s way of life. Virtue signaling is no substitute for virtue. Had the Cincinnati Zoo hosted people with more courage and presence of mind than speed at whipping out their iPhones, maybe Harambe wouldn’t have had to die because that little boy would never have reached his lair.