To kill or not to kill a gorilla to save a child

| May 31, 2016

By: David F. Roberts

The world woke up this morning to the unfortunate news that a 450 pound Silver Back gorilla was violently put down in a Cincinnati zoo where he once called ‘home’ in order to save the life of a three year old boy.

Without hearing all the facts no one could be blamed for thinking the actions of the zoo management to shoot to kill 17 year old Harambe were justifiable. After all, a helpless four year old in a confined space with an incarcerated primate whose natural habitat is somewhere in the forests of central Africa, must be considered extraordinarily frightening.

Zoo Director Thane Maynard. Photo courtesy

Zoo Director Thane Maynard. Photo courtesy

So our natural human response is to move to save the child at all costs and examine the circumstances surrounding the child’s access to the enclosure after the threat has been eliminated.But the 6 million dollar question on everyone’s lips is, ‘where were the child’s parents (Deonne Dickerson and Michelle Gregg) in all of this?’ Had they provided adequate supervision to the child while in the zoo? Other not unreasonable questions would include, ‘what sort of security measures are in place to protect visitors from ‘inmates’? and how secure are the enclosures from inquisitive and adventurous children?

The zoo management have confirmed that there has never been such an incident in over 20 years as the facility is properly fortified to keep humans out and animals in but the manager did say unreservedly that, ‘ no matter how securely you lock your house, if a thief wants to get in badly enough, he will’. Director Thane Maynard stated categorically that killing the gorilla in these circumstances was the right and responsible thing to do taking into account all the facts.

One troubling fact was that Harambe seemed confused about the presence of the child and at one point decided to drag him around through the water by the leg as a rag doll which according to the zoo keepers presented a real danger to the child who risked being slammed against the concrete barricade. They did not want to tranquilize the gorilla fearing it might agitate him causing him to respond with aggression and possibly crush the child. Regrettably, the decision to shoot Harambe was taken and the child was rescued and returned to his parents, an action the zoo management said was the most prudent given all the facts at hand at the time.

Now the issue of culpability is being debated in the press; should criminal charges be brought against the parents…were they negligent…could the zoo keepers have employed another less life threatening approach (to the gorilla) to save the boy?

What makes matters worse is video footage suggesting Harambe was actually protecting the child and holding his hand just before he was fatally shot. What does all this mean in the context of parental responsibility and the protection of endangered animals from unfortunate occurrences created by humans?

Harambe the gorilla playing with boy. Photo courtesy

Harambe the gorilla playing with boy. Photo courtesy

The author (a father of two) is of the firm view that parents have a duty to be ever vigilant with their children especially outdoors. Granted there are times when children under three can prove extremely difficult to keep track of outdoors in busy places, if just one parent but there is almost no excuse for both parents to not cast a watchful eye on their child or children particularly if away from home in a crowded unfamiliar environment.

Though on the face of it the parents in the Harambe case may not face prosecution if it is found the child innocently crawled away unseen and swiftly entered the gorilla’s enclosure. However, an action could possibly be brought if evidence surfaced that one or both of the parents were otherwise engaged leaving the child to his own devices, for example chatting on a mobile phone.

Unfortunately for the zoo keepers while the Cincinnati police make their minds up about the fate of the child’s parents, animal rights activists are going to continue with a barrage of insults, threats and protests for the killing of a much loved and endangered silver back gorilla. There’s nothing like the court of public opinion to tip the scales of justice.

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