RIP: Captive Gorilla Shot at Zoo

It's a story as old as the 1933 classic film King Kong. Humans take a gorilla out of his natural habitat, then imprison and display him to masses, and ultimately execute him.

On Sunday a three year old boy at the Cincinnati Zoo was able to breach the perimeter and fall inside the "Gorilla World" exhibit. Witnesses and video show a male gorilla named Harambe apparently trying to protect the boy, but he does drag the kid through the water of a moat, moving the boy away from the hysteria of the screaming onlookers. After about 10 minutes, zoo personnel felt they had no choice but to shoot and kill Harambe, the day after his 17th birthday. Zoo Director Thane Maynard stated " . . . they made a tough choice and they made the right choice . . . "

So let's assume that the zoo had no choice but to shoot and kill the blameless gorilla. Do they bear any responsibility for their prior choices that led up to this slaughter of the innocent?

I question the wisdom and morality of imprisoning animals in circuses, amusement parks, or zoos for entertainment and "educational" purposes. The zoo keepers always tout how their business teaches the public, particularly children, all about these captive creatures so that folks will learn to care for and respect these other inhabitants of our planet. I find this to be a bit self-serving and fallacious. An animal advocate I know once told me that kids have never seen dinosaurs, yet most children seem to adore them.

I think the lesson of zoos and other such venues is less noble. They teach children that animals are props put on earth to be owned, dominated, exhibited, and treated as disposable chattels. I am friends with a couple who have a 12 year old son who likes to draw. He went to a zoo only one time, where he attempted to sketch the animals. He expressed to me that he found the whole experience to be depressing. Astutely, he noticed that the eyes of the animals looked what he described as "lifeless," specifically commenting on the gorillas and the elephants. He said he would never return to any zoo.

Another questionable choice is the manner in which the great apes at the Cincinnati Zoo were protected from kids and vice-versa in "Gorilla World." Nearly everything in our environment is "child-proof," but apparently not the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Still another issue is the responsibility of the child's parent or parents in this fiasco. How did they loose control of their son? Generally speaking, I think it is a bad idea to allow your child to be able to get into a gorilla exhibit-- all leading to the death of the only innocent character in this tragedy, the gorilla named Harambe.

In fact, only Harambe was deprived of the freedom of choice. The zoo keepers decide where the animals should live, how they should live, what and when they are fed, and how they are treated. Even those with the best intentions are benevolent wardens in an animal prison farm.

According to one witness, "All of a sudden you heard this BAM . . . and you knew they shot the gorilla, and you heard the other gorillas just go crazy."

Yes, I suppose they did, not unlike humans might react to the killing of one of their family members or friends, executed in their presence.

Gorillas have DNA very similar to humans. According to a National Geographic, "Staring face to face with a gorilla, it's hard not to find them eerily similar to humans--and now the first published gorilla genome supports that, according to a new study."

Charles Darwin stated "There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery."

Harambe will feel no more of any of it.

Footnote: Yesterday PETA released a statement from primatologist Julia Gallucci in response to Harambe's death:

"Yet again, captivity has taken an animal's life. The gorilla enclosure should have been surrounded by a secondary barrier between the humans and the animals to prevent exactly this type of incident. Gorillas have shown that they can be protective of smaller living beings and react the same way any human would to a child in danger. Consider Binti Jua, the gorilla who carried a child to a zookeeper's gate. Even under the 'best' circumstances, captivity is never acceptable for gorillas or other primates, and in cases like this, it's even deadly. This tragedy is exactly why PETA urges families to stay away from any facility that displays animals as sideshows for humans to gawk at."