by - June 01, 2016

I'm sure most of you have heard by now about the events at Cincinnati Zoo involving Harambe, the 17-year-old Silverback Gorilla, and a 4 year old boy. There have been so many different opinions flying around and so this is what I think.

Harambe - source
The boy fell into the enclosure (although I have seen some reports that he crawled through a public barrier so he could swim with the gorillas; something he allegedly said he wanted to do). Harambe then, noticing this, went towards the boy. 10 minutes this boy was in the enclosure. 10 minutes.  In the end, Harambe was shot and killed. There is footage you can watch of Harambe pulling the boy through the water and then standing him up right and holding onto him. Although the unknown intentions of the gorilla make this situation understandable terrifying for all involved, there is no evidence of Harambe trying to hurt the boy or getting angry that I can see. There is only about 1 minute of footage and so 9 minutes go unreported.

Now my immediate response to this is, 10 minutes is a long time. Where was everyone??? Were people just watching this happen for 10 minutes?? Did no one do anything for 10 minutes? I mean, granted there wasn't much they could do, but still I think it is somewhat unbelievable that if you find yourself in an enclosure with a wild animal, nothing happens for 10 minutes.

And of course when something does happen, the animal gets shot and you get darted off to hospital to deal with your minor injuries and (hopefully) an improved judgement and heightened respect for wild animals.

Now I know the parents may be being investigated by the police. I certainly agree an investigation is in order because I don't understand how a child can get themselves into a gorilla enclosure before anyone realises what is happening - especially a 4 year old. However, I do hold some sympathy for the parents in this case. A lot of people have been very quick to bash them on social media, and although they should take their share the blame, it can't have been easy watching your 4 year old son with a gorilla (for 10 minutes???) not ever knowing what will happen next. This also makes me question: at what age do we stop blaming the parents and start blaming the child?

people have been leaving flowers in memory of Harambe
The other share of the blame lies with the zoo on this one. What kind of zoo has enclosures, for potentially dangerous animals, that are possible to fall into? From what I can tell, you view the gorillas from above, and so the zoo probably assumed a certain level of common sense would be applied here not to jump in, or stand in anyway where you could fall. Although this seems logical it was obviously, stupid. I remember when I learnt to drive my instructor told me to always assume the worst in people in potentially dangerous situations: assume they will drive badly so if they do you are prepared. Although this incredibly cynical outlook is somewhat depressing, maybe if Cincinnati Zoo had applied the same way of thinking to their enclosure designs, Harambe would still be alive and this would never have happened.

In short, my overall opinion on this is Harambe should not have been shot. This probably doesn't surprise anyone. What I do have to say though, which is somewhat surprising, is that I don't know what could have been done instead. I wish I did. Reports say that tranquillisers were not used because Harambe was stressed and so they would take less time to work, and theres no knowing how shooting him would a dart would have gone down with him - personally it would probably annoy me and so this does make a good defence.

What I do know, is that there is nothing to say that Harambe wanted to hurt the boy. I don't think he did, because if he did, he had 10 minutes to do so. Gorillas are very strong animals and could kill a grown man, let alone a child. This suggests Harambe had no intention of killing the boy and may have eventually just let go.

Gorillas are actually naturally calm, gentle animals unless threatened. Now, Harambe may well have felt threatened by this unknown situation and so his behaviour would have been especially unpredictable, but overall they don't unnecessarily lash out. Their strength also means he could hurt the child without meaning to, which probably explains the mild injuries.

There was a case in 1986 and another in 1996 where young children fell into gorilla enclosures. Therefore, this happens far more frequently than we think. In 1986, the child was injured in the fall and a large male gorilla, similar in size to Harambe, positioned himself between the child and other gorillas in a protective stance, and gently stroked the injured child. He did not do anything to delay or hinder the rescue of the child, and was recognised as a "gentle giant". In 1996, a female gorilla cradled the child and carried him to a door where he was retrieved by zoo workers. This gorilla was seen as rescuing the child. Again, she did not impede the rescue in any way, and actually helped it.

This shows that gorillas are not notoriously violent towards humans, and are naturally protective. Of course accidents happen and so a cautious approach is necessary; but this certainly provides evidence for the case that Harambe was acting in a well intentioned way.

We all remember David Attenborough's infamous encounter with a large family of wild mountain gorillas. If you know gorilla behaviours, then you would not assume he was acting badly in anyway, but would assume he was protecting the child. They're not violent without reason - a trait humans I wish they shared with humans.

Sir David Attenborough with wild gorillas - source from google images

Harambe's death is a classic example of humans not understanding enough about a species, and so assuming the worst. 

The situation should never have happened in the first place, but it did. Did Harambe really have to die? Hopefully this will encourage people to understand the animals in their zoos better and so IF this situation, or similar, arises again, there is a better solution than just pulling a trigger.

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