The insanity of zoos
If anything, for me, this has solidified the need for zoos and enclosed habitats for wildlife to closed down permanently. I believe the time has come to cease and desist from the “viewing sport” of looking at caged up wild animals, who should be returned to their own habitat, or only kept until they die. No more captivity for animals to be put in zoos for the viewing pleasure of human beings. Its time has come. This just reinforces for me the need to shut down zoos permanently.
This was no chimp
This past weekend, the Cincinnati Zoo had its 17 year old 400 pound (180 Kg) gorilla, named Harambe shot dead in order to save a four year old child that had gotten through the perimeter fencing and fell down, a fifteen foot drop into the gorilla compound. It was an open habitat where people could view the gorillas in an open and as free as possible area. The perimeter fence was all that separated the viewing public from the animals in the gorilla pound 15 feet below. A gorilla, Harambe, lost his life, when parents lost track of their four year old boy who scampered through the fencing and fell down the 15 feet below into the gorilla pound. The gorilla grabbed the boy and pulled the boy through the water and held the boy close, and the zoo staff had to shoot the gorilla, rather than try to tranquilize it as that process would have taken too long to take effect. Waiting ten minutes for the animal to be sedated would have put the child in even more grave danger. The zoo staff responded appropriately. This gorilla was no chimp!
The blessing and curse of 24/7 news and social media was on full display
This incident revealed more than anything, just how quickly word spreads around the world through the Internet, and how quickly it spreads on social media, especially Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The responses from the public has been quick and sharp and from a variety of perspectives. You have had the 24 hour news channels like CNN provide ongoing updates throughout the day and focusing on three lines of questioning and investigation.
The areas that have been in constant discourse over the last couple of days are:
- Why did the gorilla have to be destroyed? Why could it not be tranquilized?
- How did a child get through the perimeter fencing?
- Can the parents of the child be held to account for losing their child that was under their care, control and custody?
- Should animals continue to put into a confined area and segregated for the viewing pleasure of the human species?
As a Canadian adult male, I have watched this display on the news feed of my mobile device and on my laptop at home, and I have seen everything from the sublime, to the absurd when it comes to this news story. The constant news feed has made it possible for us to continue to watch and read and listen to the ongoing story. This appears to not be going away any time soon.
It’s a gorilla, get over it!
It is amazing how organizations that advocate for animal rights are really becoming somewhat anal in their attitudes, words, vigils and the like, for the sake of a gorilla that had to be shot to protect and rescue a four year old child. The abuse and outlandish backlash from the public has continue to rise and for me it raised some issues of concern.
Christie Blatchford, a Canadian journalist did a piece where she told people to “Get over it! It’s a gorilla!” Yes, I have to concur, it is a gorilla and people need to get over it and get some perspective on the matter. Some people in our day get pretty opinionated and use social media and online petitions to get some kind of “movement” going on the pet cause of the moment. Today’s “pet cause” (pun intended) is the plight and death of Harambe the gorilla.
So, why did this gorilla have to die?
It is pretty obvious as to why the gorilla had to die. There was a human life in danger. Some will dispute the child was in danger as the video evidence suggests that Harambe was holding and protecting the child. If you combine the noise level of panicked human beings on the scene, with the sensitivity of the gorilla to that noise, it was only a matter of time before an agitated gorilla mortally injured the child.
The zoo administration made the correct assessment of the situation and put the priority on saving the child. How the child got loose and wandered through the fencing is another issue to be investigated after dealing with the immediate situation. The child takes priority over any animal. Period. End of story. One of my workmates, Ron, said, “If the animal at the zoo is a python snake, the reaction of the public is totally different!” I tend to agree with Ron on that score. Gorillas, being an endangered species, have captured the human imagination, much like lions, tigers and bears. A snake on the other hand is a snake, viewed in some ways as a pest and nuisance rather than a majestic powerful animal. The public reaction was in response to viewing the gorilla as a majestic, strong and beautiful animal. The human response was a response that was programmed into the culture and society about the beauty of these beasts, and everyone swallowed the Kool-Aid, and fell for the spectacle of this great 400 pound beast. The zoo staff did what they had to do. People do need to get over that and need to stop looking for a scapegoat to blame. The zoo if it is at fault for anything, it is for keeping the open habitat concept going and not making necessary security updates and changes. Their quick response showed how well prepared they were to take out the beast and save the child. You cannot fault them for that!
Could the beast have been sedated?
The experts on TV, on CNN, the CBC, and BBC, all say the same things. Their conclusions, and they are the experts, experts who have studied animal behavior, and specifically gorilla behavior, and all of them said, that in the circumstances that the zoo administration faced, the only option available was to shoot the gorilla and kill the beast, in order to rescue and save the child. The outcry of people saying the gorilla should have been shot with tranquilizer darts reveal the lack of understanding on their part concerning the time lapse and actions taking place on the ground.
Having surveyed their options, the zoo administration acted in a way to mitigate the circumstances, taking into account that they would lose a cherished and loved gorilla, but that the public safety issue had to be addressed, especially the saving of a four year old’s life. It was the gorilla or the child, and the gorilla loses every time. If the child had died, I hate to speculate as to the aftershocks and ramifications of letting a child die when the child could have been saved. Thank God for the proper actions of the zoo staff and those who had to carry out the task of shooting the gorilla. It surely was not an easy task to accomplish. I have had to put down two dogs, and these tasks have been unbearable to go through as these pets were part of our family. I can well imagine how attached the zoo staff were to this gorilla. There was a great post on Facebook by a former zoo staff that worked with the very same kind of gorilla and her perspective was great to hear and I share it here, embedded in this blog post.
How did the child get away from his parents?
My questions really lie with the parents and their taking of their small children to an open concept zoo to watch the animals. Apparently this was a family outing to the zoo and the parents had three kids with them on this outing. My question quite frankly is this, “What were you thinking?” I can understand the attraction of taking children to the zoo, but whether you understand it or not, “not all zoos are created equal.”
Some zoos have more open spaces and pounds and viewer galleries that are at greater heights and make it difficult for the animals to escape, but they have more free range to move about, in a “limited free range habitat.” Part of the mission of zoos in our day is to not hold animals in restrained environments, but to give them bigger and wider open space in which to live as comfortably as possible, and retain some aspect of “being in the wild.” You can see these kinds of changes at our own Metro Toronto Zoo.
You can see the “command and control” mechanisms in place at the Toronto Zoo, where it is somewhat easier for parents to control their children.
What of the parents? Are they responsible?
I would not be surprised due to the worldwide spread of this story, if the local police do not charge the parents and hold them liable for the resulting death of the gorilla, and that the parents may need to pay damages to the Cincinnati Zoo for the loss of Harambe. This would neither surprise me, and nor would a criminal charge of neglect when it comes to the care of their own children. In the end, I believe the parents could easily face the force of the law in these ways:
- Arguments could be made that the parents by their own negligence set off a sequence of events that eventually led to the destruction of a rare and beautiful animal. They could be liable for this and face having to make monetary compensation to the zoo, for the loss of the gorilla, and the cost incured for having had to put the animal down.
- The police could also charge them with parental negligence in not providing proper care and oversight to their children in a public place.
The parents responded with joyful thanksgiving with the staff at the zoo rescuing their son, and that is fully appreciated by those of us who are parents. We know what it is to look after children 24/7 in public. We know the nightmare of what could be if we lost one of our children. So at a very human level, we all would agree and have empathy for them as parents and families.
Yes, there is a “however.” However, these parents took too much on when they decided on a family excursion to the Cincinnati Zoo. They were ill prepared for keeping an eye and watching and caring for their children. How do I know this? Evidence. Look at what happened with this four year old. So what could have been done?
- Have enough family and friends with you to look after your children, when you are going to a public place like a zoo.
- Decide who is going to be responsible for which children, and use the appropriate methods to keep them restrained and controlled, either with harnesses or other means.
- Pre-plan the trip to the zoo. Find out which exhibits you want to see, and plan on seeing those, and restrict the sites you go to, and that way, you will maximize the trip, and better control where you and what you do.
- Pre-plan snack and rest times. As with any trips, when you have kids, you should plan rest times, meal times, and bathroom breaks should be accommodated as best as possible based on your location and what is available.
- Plan on avoiding the larger crowds and exhibits. Find out the flow of people and what is suitable for a family group to jump into, and gauge how well your group will be accommodated by the crowd and the exhibit. Sometimes the safest thing is to avoid the crazy and popular exhibits.
What will be the outcome for the Cincinnati Zoo?
The Cincinnati Zoo stated it was the first time in 38 years that this kind of an incident has occurred. My comment to that is “What prevented it from happening before if you have the same fencing and security measures in place now as you did then?”
I believe the zoo will do a review of its perimeter fences and the “natural habitats” it provides for its animals. I believe there will be recommendations to make them less accessible to the viewing public. They will not want to risk another similar incident to this one.
I just wonder how a zoo like the Toronto Zoo would have responded. If you look at the video below you will see the same kind of gorilla which is at the Metro Zoo, and how the habitat is set up, and the maximum protection of both the animals and the viewing public. I certainly hope that the Cincinnati Zoo changes its enclosure and perimeter fence security, to protect both the animals and the viewing public.
~ Samuel M. Buick