Pro-Con: Should the Cincinnati Zoo have killed Harambe the gorilla?

Via Cincinnati Zoo

Harambe (via Cincinnati Zoo)

PRO: Howard Goodman, Editorial Writer

No one could have wanted to keep that Silverback gorilla alive more than the zookeepers. No one could have known the gorilla better. No one would have had a better ability to communicate with him.

If the people closest to Harambe judged that he had to be shot because the little boy’s life was in danger, then you have to think that their reasons were extremely compelling.

Yes, we have seen gorillas acting kindly and protective to human children in other zoos at other times. And maybe Harambe, too, intended nothing but loving kindness toward that 4-year-old.

But a 450-pound gorilla is many times stronger than a human, and when you see the video of him dragging the tiny boy through the water, the speed and violence of it is shocking. It looks like the kid can be snapped in two in an instant. You hear onlookers say: “Oh, my god!”

 

As the zoo’s director, Thane Maynard, said Monday: “It was a life-threatening situation and the silverback gorilla is a very dangerous animal.”

“We stand by our decision and we’d make the same call today.”

It is a terrible thing that a beautiful animal is dead. But animal rights activists are off base in criticizing the zoo for their handling of this wrenching situation. When a human life is in danger, it is the human life that must be saved.

 

Via Cincinnati Zoo

Harambe (via Cincinnati Zoo)

CON: Kristyn Wellesley, Digital Editor

CNN’s Laura Coates doesn’t understand Cincinnati’s reaction to Harambe’s death on Saturday. I will try to explain it.

Cincinnatians — and being born and raised there, I am proudly in that group — have a storied history with our gorillas, and it’s important to understand that to really understand the reaction to Harambe’s death.

It began with Penelope, a western lowland gorilla like Harambe, who came to the Cincinnati Zoo in 1957. Born in Africa, Penelope was a gift to a group of Cincinnatians who had travelled to Africa to give famed humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer a herd of Nubian goats so he could help his patients who were dying of calcium deficiency. Schweitzer had adopted the then-3-year-old Penelope when she was orphaned and gave her to the group in gratitude for their help.

In Cincinnati, Penelope was introduced to King Tut, a 475-pound silverback gorilla who had also been born in Africa and was enamored with her, faithful to her his entire life. The pair had four children together and that family became the foundation for opening the $4 million Gorilla World at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1978, so our families could share with their family.

When King Tut died in 1987 from complications with dental surgery, the entire community mourned and were outraged when his body was sent to a Los Angeles museum for display. Instead, there is a bronze plaque in memory of this gorilla patriarch in Gorilla World. Penelope passed two years later in 1989. Their daughter Samantha is 46 and still lives in Gorilla World.

Cincinnatians hold a very special place in their hearts for these gorillas.

So for Zoo officials to have to kill one is especially devastating to the community.

Thane Maynard, the Zoo’s Director, said tranquilizing Harambe, as the Palm Beach Zoo did recently when one of their male Malayan tigers attacked zookeeper Stacey Konwiser, would have taken too long. But were there no other alternatives?

The Cincinnati Zoo is known for its enrichment programs with the gorillas. There is a relationship between the gorillas and their trainers, and these are very intelligent creatures. Was Harambe given the opportunity to turn the child over to rescuers before he was killed? Did the rescuers make the call too quickly?

Looking at the video, Harambe seemed afraid of the screaming crowd — who were understandably screaming — and dragged the child away from the noise. When the other two gorillas followed the trainer’s command to return to the habitat, Harambe went into the moat to get the child. Was he protecting it? Did he see it as a threat? We can never know those answers.

This is a child whose life could have been in danger, there is no question. How the child was able to access the enclosure or why he wasn’t being supervised closer by his parents are questions that need to be answered, but even those aren’t necessarily points of blame. No zoo can prevent every scenario that might occur. Every parent has turned away distracted for that split second.

But should Harambe have had to die for others’ mistakes? No.

It isn’t that Cincinnatians, or even the animal rights’ groups who are protesting, aren’t as concerned with human life as an animal’s life, as Coates’ suggests — far from it. It’s that we feel deeply for these animals and want to know that there really was no other alternative that could have preserved and protected both lives.

Zoos need to find ways to change their protocols to better protect their animals so no other animal falls victim to the same fate as Harambe.