No matter which way you look at it, the shooting of Harambe the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden this weekend was a tragedy. The 17-year-old male silverback was in the prime of his life, healthy and expected to be helpful in a breeding program aimed at increasing the number of the critically-endangered species in this world.
What’s more, the 4-year-old child who managed to somehow get into the Gorilla World enclosure, and whose life zoo officials said was in grave danger, prompting the killing of a healthy animal, should not have been able to get anywhere near the animals.
Someone screwed up. Maybe a lot of someones.
But as the Internet has gone on and on (and on and on) about the happenings at the Cincinnati zoo this weekend, trying to pinpoint exactly who to blame, a piece of our humanity has been lost. Those pointing at the parents and the zoo both may have a point.
Those who are blaming the child, taking to social media to brand the child an “idiot,” and much, much worse, do not.
Do you remember being 4? Do you remember what it is you did back then? Why you ate dirt or stuck marbles up your nose?
Do you remember not being allowed to do anything that adults could do, be it drive the car you really wanted to drive or shoot the gun you really wanted to shoot? Do you remember being wholly unaccountable for your actions because you were 4, and you couldn’t be trusted to make life-altering decisions?
Still think the 4-year-old who crawled into the gorilla enclosure and was snatched up by Harambe was an “idiot” or worse?
The child did what children do. It wasn’t a wise thing to do. It should have been thwarted by smart adults (whether that’s on the zoo or his parents it’s hard to say without knowing all of the facts).
Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Unfortunately, zoo officials at that moment in time could not wind back the clock. They couldn’t make the parents mind their child a bit better. They couldn’t rebuild the enclosure to ensure no mischevious toddler got inside. They were left with a decision that well-regarded wild animal expert Jack Hanna has called the correct one, one that he says was absolutely necessary to save a child’s life.
A child’s life.
Because here in America, we value children and acknowledge childhood. We don’t treat them as tiny adults. We understand that their thinking is not on par with those who are older, whose cerebral cortexes have had some more time to develop.
More importantly, we don’t hold them accountable for the decisions of adults around them. It’s why we have a foster care system in America to step in to help kids whose parents aren’t doing it themselves and why we provide free school lunches for kids who can’t help themselves out of poverty because they’re too young to get a job.
Whatever went wrong in Cincinnati, the fact remains that a child could not be expected to pay for it. Harambe may not have deserved to die, but neither did a 4-year-old child.