What do you Say to your Grandchildren? RIP Harambe
I watched a news video of the tragic events at the Cincinatti Zoo this past weekend. "What do you say to your Grandchildren?" was the closing comment. I have been to this zoo - a wonderful collaboration of a botanical garden and Zoological garden. I have also been to the gorilla exhibit. Large, deep and set apart from the crowd.
Sadly, a 4 year old boy climbed over the protective embankment walls, through the bushes and fell down at least 12 feet (my information comes from media sources) into the living environment of the Gorillas. It was scary for the child, Harambe the Gorilla, the onlookers and especially the parents. When one looks at the video of the Gorilla, you can see he is standing over the child, and the posture of the Gorilla is more tense as the child cries and the crowd is shouting. I do not need to recant the reactions of the Gorilla, the child, or the ultimate decision to kill the Gorilla. If you look at the Harambe's response through his eyes, it is always due to the escalation of sound (shouts, screams and fear) from the crowd. This is natural. Dangerously natural. Harambe sensed the crying child meant something alarming was happening. Remove the child or guard the child and it should stop. Animals like humans will switch from fear to aggression in fractions of a second. An adult male Gorilla has the ability to crush and severely injure - that is their natural duty. This situation was out of control, and a choice had to be made. The safety of the child or the memory of the Gorilla.
What do I mean by memory? If Harambe was somehow lured away from the child, the crowd silenced, and the child removed by skilled (VERY SKILLED) zoo handlers all in a matter of a few minutes, the Gorilla would always remember that humans around the exhibit will start screaming and small humans (children) will fall into the exhibit. Humans around the exhibit are scary. So this Gorilla would be on the lookout, and likely aggressive in the exhibit whenever the zoo was open to the public. That would be dangerous for the other Gorillas, because he may take out his frustrations on them. It is sad, but in the end Harambe's sacrifice was better than living in constant fear and aggression. I feel for the staff who had to make this difficult decision. And I feel for the boy and his family to have gone through this.
So what do you say to your grandkids? Respect life. Respect boundaries for all living creatures. Zoos are not interactive places with wildlife. Observation is your interaction. What to say about the tragedy ? - "An innocent boy invaded the space of the Gorilla. It scared the Gorilla and the crowd made it worse. Scared animals try to make scary things stop. The Gorilla would remember the screams of people whenever he saw people again. So he could not live at the Zoo. Where could the Gorilla go? The rules of being a good observer were broken. Follow the rules and everyone is ok." That is what you say to kids.
If your child is young, or impulsive put them under direct control. That means connected to a responsible person's body. Zoos are not Disneyland. You cannot go up and hug a bear. Be like Jane Goodall and observe from a quiet distance. When you see her hugged by a chimp, it is because she sat silently building trust and allowed them to come to her. She did not invade their space. Even the late Steve Irwin would push the boundaries of engaging with wildlife and blame himself for getting too close when the animal was upset.
- written by Dr. Sally J. Foote