On Saturday a rare and beautiful creature was shot dead after an a four-year-old boy ‘slipped’ into the gorilla’s caged enclosure during a visit to Cincinnati Zoo with his family. The incident, which has triggered outcry the world over, has left us all with one harrowing and regretful question: did Harambe, the 17-year-old 450 pound silverback gorilla really need to be shot to death in the prison we humans have made his home?
Despite headlines stating the child slipped into Harambe’s cage, onlookers have a different story. Kimberley Ann Perkins O’Connor, who captured parts of the incident on her phone, told of how she overheard the boy asking his mother if he could go into the water before he entered the cage.
The unidentified boy is said to have crawled under a rail, through wires and over a moat wall to get into the enclosure, in what was a deliberate act rather than a tragic accident. The boy spent a total of 10 minutes in the enclosure with the silverback while onlookers could only stand and stare in shock as they watched the incident unfold. O’Connor’s video captures the moment that Harambe seems to stand over the boy in an act of protection and during the clip he can even be seen holding the little boys hand. However, as the crowd grows more anxious so does the gorilla and during the panic Harambe’s instincts take over and he flees to the corner the cage taking the boy with him, dragging him through the water by the leg in a bid to escape the unsettling noise of the crowd. Moments later Harambe is dead.
Zookeepers shot and killed the rare gorilla after the brief encounter and Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard said he stands by the decision to kill the silverback to save the child. The decision to shoot rather than tranquilise sparked widespread internet outrage and many people are under the opinion that ultimately the child’s parents were to blame for failing to look after their son correctly. Celebrity comedian Ricky Gervais is just one of a host of celebrities to take to Twitter to express his anger, “It seems that some gorillas make better parents than some people” he tweeted.
But according to Maynard, those second guessing the call to shoot don’t understand silverback gorillas. “The child’s life was in danger. People who question that don’t understand you can’t take a risk with a silverback gorilla – this is a dangerous animal,” said Maynard. “Looking back, we’d make the same decision. The child is safe.”
Taken to Children’s Hospital and released Saturday evening the boy is now home and doing well. The family thanked the zoo in a statement through a public relations firm stating: “we are thankful to the Lord that our child is safe. We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff. We know that this was a very difficult decision for them, and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla. We hope that you will respect our privacy at this time.”
The tragedy is far from over though with people now calling for the boy’s parents to be held criminally responsible for the incident. An online petition seeking justice for Harambe has garnered more than 100,100 signatures in just under 48 hours. “This beautiful gorilla lost his life because the boy’s parents did not keep a closer watch on their child,” the petition claims.
No matter which side of the debate you sit on I think that the real lesson to be learnt here is that gorillas like Harambe are wild animals and that the imprisonment of a wild animal for the entertainment of children and their families has ultimately resulted in a tragic loss of life and a needless dwindling of a magnificent species. As a race, us humans are all to quick to shoot first and then think later; RIP Harambe it’s our fault you are gone.