The Cincinnati Gorilla

I saw the tragedy that happened when a kid got through the zoo barrier and got into the gorilla exhibit.  The uproar that happened because of the zookeepers having to shoot the gorilla who had the child is astonishing.  The fact that the parents of the child who crawled into the gorilla pit are receiving death threats now is absolutely disgusting to me.

What has this world come to that there are actually human beings who would place the life of an animal above the life of a small child??  I understand that the gorilla was beloved and loves by many, but it’s a wild animal, not a person in a gorilla suit.  Even if the gorilla meant no harm to the child, and I believe that this was the case at the time, anything could have happened.  I would have been so much more upset if they had tranquilized the gorilla, and in the time taken between the shot and the sedative taking hold, he could have killed the child immediately.  I’ve seen enough animal movies to know that it takes time for a dart to take effect.

The real danger to the child was that the gorilla didn’t know its own strength.  This wasn’t King Kong who fell in love with some woman and it becomes some romanticized story where we get upset at the evil humanity for shooting a loving soul.  A gorilla could have hurt the child accidentally.  A gorilla could have been like Lennie from Of Mice and Men who didn’t know his own strength who killed puppies he was trying to pet and who killed a woman who started screaming and agitated him into accidentally breaking her neck.  He didn’t mean it, but he didn’t have the brain capacity to understand that he was way too rough.  The gorilla was banging the child’s head around as he dragged him.  What would have happened when the child screamed enough to freak out the gorilla?

Do you remember Seigfried and Roy??  Their tiger Mantecore who was part of their 22-year old tiger act severely injured Roy Horn during a show in 2003.   Originally it was reported as a tiger attacking his own handler, but was strenuously denied by Roy.  It was speculated that the tiger freaked out over a large hat worn by a patron in the audience, and he responded by dragging Roy to safety off of the stage by his neck, the blood loss causing Roy to suffer a stroke that would debilitate him.  Roy claims that he was already having the stroke, and Mantecore was rescuing him by dragging him to safety.  I believe Mantecore truly meant no harm to Roy, as I’ve seen the damage a truly attacking tiger can cause.  But Mantecore did not know his own jaw strength or teeth sharpness, and biting a soft man’s pink skin is not the same as carrying another animal with several layers of fur. Happily for them, Mantecore was not killed, as he got out of the way and back to his cage on his own, and has died of old age.  But it only took a second, and Roy nearly died.

No matter how beloved, no matter how much we anthropomorphize an animal’s intent or actions, that’s a wild animal, and wild animals and people, even children, do not mix.  Anyone who makes that mistake is grossly in the wrong.  Projecting humanity onto the gorilla is a mistake.  The little kid wasn’t Mowgli or Pi, and the Gorilla wasn’t King Louis or Orange Juice.  This isn’t a fantasy.  The little kid *was* in danger the entire time, and the zookeeper team should be applauded for their heroism in saving the child.

I have thoughts about who to blame here, and there’s a lot of blame to go around:

  1. I blame the barrier structure.  We childproof rides in amusement parks.  We childproof daycare centers, and the barrier shouldn’t have been such that a 3-year old could have climbed through it that quickly.
  2. The parent who was watching the child shares some blame.  Not enough to warrant death threats because it wasn’t intentional, but for the same reason when my son was a toddler, I always made sure he was in front of me when we went out anywhere so I could keep my eyes on him.  I’m sure the parent/guardian feels sick at what happened.
  3. I blame the customers of zoos.  Yeah, you’re reading it right.  I saw a protester at the zoo furious that the zoo shot the gorilla and decided to cancel her zoo membership.  YOU are what is the problem!  Zoos should NOT EXIST!  They are an exercise in animal cruelty at its core.  Gorillas are endangered, and we have no business caging them for exhibits and making them miserable.  Animals are meant to be free in a habitat, not caged for human amusement.  We’re finally starting to get it with circus animals and whales.  When will we stop capturing and caging animals??

A long time ago before the age of TV, we didn’t have the ability to see exotic animals unless we were rich enough to go on African safaris.  Now we can watch National Geographic, Nature, Animal Planet, and a whole host of TV shows able to bring the animal to our living rooms and classrooms.  We don’t need zoos any longer.  If we want to save endangered species, we should have wildlife preserves, not zoos.

I have always hated zoos my whole life.  I would cry after coming home from one because I would hate to be in captivity, and I felt bad for animals and birds in cages.  In 2007, however, I went to the only zoo that made me smile, and that was the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  In that place, WE were the ones in cages, traveling in a monorail with large moats around US, not the animals.  In the habitat, there were watering holes, trees, animals, birds, living free, roaming miles and miles of beautiful country with no cage for them in sight.  THAT is the zoo that all zoos should strive for.  The cheetahs can run at full speed, and giraffes can walk in the natural herds and breathe free air.  Full habitats where animals can run free and be themselves with US in the train is something I can get behind, and it’s a lot harder for a 3-year old to get out of a locked moving train.

Food for thought.  And Common Sense!

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