Saturday’s shooting of western lowland silverback gorilla Harambe was tragic. Many people argue that it was unnecessary, and everyone has an opinion about who to blame — whether it is the zoo, the parents or the child himself. Their outrage has turned an already tragic situation even uglier.
I am not a primatologist. I am not a zookeeper. I have no idea what I would have done in that situation, and if we were honest with ourselves, neither do most of the people reading this article. Very few people have jobs where we have to make decisions like that, but we are very quick to judge those who do. The Cincinnati Zoo made what they felt was the right decision at the time based on the information they had. That is all any of us can hope for.
Saturday’s accident was the first of its kind at the Cincinnati Zoo, although it is not the first time a child has fallen into a gorilla enclosure elsewhere. According to zoo director Thayne Maynard, “the barriers are safe. They exceed any required protocols. The trouble with barriers, whatever the barrier is, some people get past it. The zoo is not negligent.”
Even if you disagree with Maynard, there is some evidence that is irrefutable — programs like those offered by the Cincinnati Zoo are saving endangered animals. Fewer than 175,000 Western Lowland gorillas live in the wild. Approximately 765 live in zoos, which is a significant number compared to the total population. Preserving these animals and others like them is absolutely essential. Zoos provide places of protection and offer the public a chance to appreciate and fund these conservation efforts. Thanks to ecologically devastating human activities, these animals now need zoos like the one in Cincinnati in order to survive.
Hunting, habitat destruction and climate change are devastating many of our planet’s animals. We owe it to them to try and save the ones that are left, and one of the ways we can do that is by supporting programs that promote healthier populations of endangered species. Boycotting the Cincinatti Zoo won’t bring back Harambe. It won’t encourage parents to be more vigilant. It will limit the available funds that the zoo has to put towards building better enclosures, supporting their animals and offering educational outreach programs.
There will always be accidents when humans and wild animals meet. It was a terrible accident, no one is saying it wasn’t. But instead of seeking someone to blame, people need to realize that bad events will take place and the focus should be on how to prevent them in the future — not on how we can attack parents or zoos on social media. It is OK that we are upset about Harambe’s death. It is normal that we want to find the reason this happened. But it’s not OK to bash people personally on Twitter feeds or Facebook posts.
There is no reason to personally insult zoo staff members or to offer to do horrific things to the mother’s anatomy to prevent her from having further children. This anger feeds itself and does nothing to honor Harambe’s memory or to prevent accidents from happening in the future. It doesn’t matter what your views are. We all need to relearn how to express ourselves with a little more respect. And if we cared about Harambe as much as our social media posts say that we do, we will continue to support zoos and other programs that protect endangered species.