Harambe: What should have happened?

When misunderstanding ends with the life of the other

The internet raged over the weekend when a critically endangered 17-year-old silverback gorilla was shot dead in a zoo from Ohio.

The primate, Harambe, was shot in order to rescue a four-year-old boy who fell into the 10-12 ft.  gorilla enclosure of the Cincinnati Zoo on Saturday.

In the video taken of the incident, Harambe was seen approaching the child, which he later on grabbed and dragged around the moat. However, the gorilla was also seen to be standing in a protective stance in front of the child, and some pointed out that the gorilla was as if holding the hand of the child.

The mother of the child, Michelle Gregg, called 911 and asked for them to contact the zoo to respond to the accident. While the response was immediate, the Dangerous Animal Response Team of Cincinnati zoo was faced with a dilemma that eventually lead to the death of Harambe.

“The Zoo security team’s quick response saved the child’s life. We are all devastated that this tragic accident resulted in the death of a critically-endangered gorilla,” the zoo’s director Thane Maynard said in the statement. “This is a huge loss for the Zoo family and the gorilla population worldwide.”

Is the killing shot necessary?

While the people understood the apparent danger of the situation, they cannot help but question the decision of the zoo administration of putting a bullet to an endangered animal such as Harambe.

A Primatologist, Frans de Waal, posted in his Facebook that ‘[Harambe] showed a combination of protection and confusion. He stood over the child, held him up, moved/dragged him through the water (at least once very roughly), stood over him again. Much of his reaction may have been triggered by public noise and yelling.’

The zoo personnel could have distracted the gorilla away from the child, or could have offered food in exchange with the child, an act that according to Waal, is recognized by the primate. Furthermore, netizens asked why it was not tranquilizer shots that were inside the gun that took Harambe down.

Experts’ opinions

“It is important to note that with the child still in the exhibit, tranquilizing the 450-pound gorilla was not an option,” the Cincinnati Zoo said in a statement. “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.”

However, Waal pointed out in his post that there was no moment of aggression and had the gorilla wanted to kill the child, he could have done so easily with one bang of his fist, which did not happen. He also clarified that “a gorilla doesn’t look at a human child as something edible. The species is not interested in catching moving objects, the way cats are. Harambe surely knew that he was not dealing with competition, hence had no reason to attack.”

Other similar circumstances

A point of comparison and probably one of the sparks of the rage of the people were two incidents wherein a similar circumstance occurred and was resolved without anyone or any animal shedding blood.

The gorilla, Jambo, housed in Durrell Wildlife Park in Jersey in UK, saved a young boy, Levan Meritt who fell in a gorilla enclosure back in 1986. Jambo stood over the unconscious boy and put himself between the boy and other gorillas approaching. He was also at one point seen to be stroking the back of the five-year-old child.

Binti Jua, an eight year-old western lowland gorilla saved a three-year-old child who was able to squeeze himself past the barriers and fell more than 15 feet into the gorilla enclosure in Brookfield Zoo in Illinois back in 1996. Binti Jua scooped up the toddler and cradled him before bringing him to the opening of the enclosure and into the hands of the paramedics.

These incidents showed that these soft-hearted giants are far from the vicious image we have all created in our minds, and that what we know may be so far from reality that a classic animated Disney film would put our perception to shame.

However, we cannot deny that since there is a disconnect and lack of understanding between humans and animals, presumptions and careful observation may not be sufficient in time to save a life of a four-year-old child, who do not know what he was doing, and with parents away from him to supervise him. This just proves that with each action, there are different sets of consequences. (Kathleen Vicho)

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