DIARIO DI MAMMA
You don’t know everything. I know it’s hard to believe. Nowadays, your little fingers have access to technology that contains all the world’s facts and thousands upon thousands of photos and video, and that leads you to think you’re all knowing and can judge just about anything.
News flash: You can’t believe everything you see on the Internet (or, I’m sad to say, the evening news) anymore. Yes, you witnessed video of a 3-year-old boy being cast about by a giant gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo. Now, you’re certain the parents are neglectful, and the zoo is a protective agency of animal abusers, and planet Earth is threatened by their very existence. Oh, the evil forces in the world! Please note my sarcasm.
By now we’ve all seen the video of Harambe, a Western lowland gorilla, dragging a 3-year-old boy who fell into the animal’s home at the Cincinnati Zoo. Onlookers described the fact that the gorilla would not let the child go and had even thrown him in the air. The video we’ve all seen shows moments when the gorilla seemed to be doting on the child and, perhaps, trying to protect him.
Still, the zoo has a protocol when the unthinkable happens and a human, in this case a defenseless child, ends up in an enclosure with a dangerous animal. Harambe was shot and killed to save the boy. Since then, protestors have been calling for the mother of the child to be charged with negligence. Many say the zoo went too far in killing the animal, which is an endangered species. Also, many want to know how come the enclosure wasn’t strong enough to keep out a pre-schooler.
The thing about extremely strong, 400-pound animals is that we can’t possibly know what they are thinking. And human life trumps that of the animal. It’s simple. The zoo did what it had to do. This rush to judgment has to stop. I have a unique perspective on this subject. I’m a mother to a 4-year-old boy, who spends most days with his cousins, a 3-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl, and me. And we’re all related to my sister, who is a zookeeper at a prominent zoo (not in Cincinnati). As a result, we know lots of other zookeepers, with whom we’ve spent significant time. That’s why I think the rest of us need to knock it off, and quit crucifying everyone.
Anyone who has spent any time with young boys knows that they can be curious, adventurous, and fearless. While those might be good qualities to have if you’re planning on going into hedge funds someday, they can be dangerous early on in life. I spend countless hours each week preventing my son and nephew from doing things that could get them or my niece killed. Now that’s a fact that most parents recognize. Let’s be honest with ourselves; we are human and we can get distracted, especially if we’re caring for more than one child. I’m not negligent or uncaring or abusive to my child, but I could easily imagine a similar scenario to the one that this terrified mother lived out in Cincinnati. I’m with her. Accidents happen, and I would have wanted the zoo to do the same if it was my kid, and it could have been my kid or nephew. I have no doubt.
Questions about the zoo’s responsibility seem more complicated. How on Earth could a 3-year-old get passed a secure enclosure at an accredited zoo, right? Well, the enclosure met the standards for accreditation, according to interviews with experts on CNN, and reports suggest the zoo has a reputation for taking any threats to the safety of both humans and animals seriously. Perhaps, this debate will be born out in a courtroom. Regardless, the child had to get under steel bars and passed various plant life and fall into the drop where the water is. It’s not like the zoo left the door open to their house for anyone to walk right in. If the enclosure was so unsafe, why hadn’t this happened before?
This incident has sparked outrage among animal activists, who claim zoos are the work of the devil. This idea has been rampant, especially in the aftermath of Blackfish, the controversial documentary about Sea World and its killer whale program. The media has really disappointed me in its coverage of these issues (just like they’ve disappointed me for just about everything else). Well-meaning people all over the Internet have only gotten half the story.
Yes, back in the day zoos captured animals in awful, uncaring ways. They don’t do that anymore. You can learn about how the 17-year-old Harambe found his way to the Cincinnati Zoo in an article that outlines the mourning the keeper who raised him is experiencing. Note that the keeper was from another zoo, and the zoos move animals for a variety of reasons that include an ability to care for them or breeding as was the case here.
Many caring people have suggested that zoos are awful because the animals are not in their native habitats and are locked up like prisoners. That might be true. But the animals that are in zoos today have had generations of their family in captivity. If you freed them tomorrow and brought them back to their “homes,” they would likely perish. The story of Keiko, the whale in the Free Willy films, is proof of that.
Zookeepers treat the animals under their care as their children. They are nerdy scientists, who usually care about the future of the environment more than those of us wielding a protest sign or a blog or a signature on a petition. Often, their life’s work revolves around protecting these animals and helping them breed, so they don’t go extinct. The breeding programs and conservation efforts at zoos are a necessary part of the effort to save our planet. All of us can take responsibility for the damage that has been done. At least, there are people trying to right our wrongs.
It is sad that Harambe had to be killed. It is sad that the world lost an endangered animal, who may have been able to produce more of his kind. It is sad that the child suffered serious injuries when he fell into the enclosure and was dragged. But Harambe’s death is no one’s fault. Can’t we accept that sometimes an accident is no one’s fault?
Let us not forget that this story has a happy ending because the child was saved. The gorilla program at the Cincinnati Zoo will continue, says the zoo’s director. I, for one, will continue to take my son and niece and nephew to zoos because it is there that my sister developed her love for animals. It is there that we can educate ourselves about the other creatures that roam with us. It is there that we can recognize our arrogance as humans and do something to change our world for the better.