Video: Harambe the gorilla – preventing tragedy

Harambe’s the gorilla’s death, so tragic and preventable, was the result of many factors, poor emergency planning in particular. In my latest video, I discuss the threat that Harambe may or may not have posed.

Key points:

A few interesting points came to light while I was doing research for this video.

  1. First, a bit of research revealed there has never been a documented case of a gorilla killing a human. Like, ever.
  2. Second, a cursory YouTube search reveals gorillas dragging their own young in exactly the same way Harambe was doing (there is a link in the video). The fact that the child wasn’t seriously harmed demonstrates that Harambe was clearly aware of protecting the child’s safety, even if it may not have been apparent to onlookers.
  3. Harambe weighed over 450 lbs. He probably wouldn’t have held the child’s  hand for ten minutes if he’d seen him as a threat.
  4. Finally, where were the animal’s caregivers in all of this? There have been recent comparable cases, none of which ended in tragedy for the gorilla or the human in the enclosure.

Did Harambe’s life have any worth?

An article in the Mirror describes a similar story with a very different outcome. In 1986 a young boy fell into a gorilla enclosure and suffered a serious concussion. A male gorilla, Jambo, stayed with him until emergency personnel were able to enter the enclosure and take the child to hospital.

I am puzzled as to why Harambe’s caregivers were unable to enter the enclosure. Were they afraid? If so, that seems highly problematic in itself, since it indicates a poor relationship with the animal.

For the zoo, the loss of this endangered lowland gorilla is a tragedy, but it also represents a financial loss, which they were quick to point out. The death of this particular gorilla will not devastate their breeding program, however, since they have sperm samples and he has a half-sister they can impregnate (?!?!?!?!). Zoo personnel extracted the sperm from his dead body to ensure the survival of their gorilla exhibit.

All this leads to the question: do we think Harambe’s life was worth anything? Is his life valuable because he brings money to the zoo? Because he’s a  member of an endangered species? Because he’s a sentient being who feels pain, fear and love?

I’m a mother myself, and of course I’m happy that the child is alright. On the other hand, I have a problem with the zookeeper’s argument (found in the link above) that they had to kill Harambe because he “could squeeze a coconut with his bare hand”.

The truth is that almost ANY large animal would be dangerous around such a small child. A cow or horse could easily have trampled him, but they probably wouldn’t have been shot. On the other hand, no gorilla has ever killed a human child in recorded history. And I think that ignoring that fact was particularly negligent on the part of the Cincinnati zoo.

2 Responses to “Video: Harambe the gorilla – preventing tragedy

  • Mary C Pace
    2 years ago

    Having listened to comments from several viewpoints, I was surprised to learn that many large animals in the wild remain in very small areas throughout their lives, so some modern zoo enclosures are not actually confining to them. Animals in zoos have a much longer life expectancy, and predictably have adequate food, shelter, and even mates–all causes for conflict and early death in the wild. So, as long as the animals can be protected from their audiences, they are probably quite happy in their homes. Viewing of animals in zoos also has an educational value as human beings come in close contact with species they would not otherwise encounter, learning respect and awe, as well as the compassion that comes from such encounters. Ironically, the conversation we are having about the demise of poor Harambe and the relative importance of his life and death would not occur without zoos and the popular interest they provoke. Thank you for your video and thoughtful conversation.

    • Thanks for replying. Interestingly, Gorillas may not move much on an average day, but they eat a great deal and can move many miles in one day. So yes, they are being confined. According to “they are migrational animals, moving in search of food at the command of the leader. They may only move a short distance each day or they can travel several miles depending on what the food sources available happen to be.”

      People who are argue that large animals “don’t move much” – whether professionals are not, have a vested interest in researching gorillas in enclosed habitats. Often human beings will spend a day without leave the house all day – but that doesn’t mean we’d be happy living under house arrest 😉

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