Tuesday, June 7, 2016 7:45 am
By Grace Essen
If you ever watched the classic, Tarzan, you would no doubt think of the movie at a time like this considering Harambe and the circumstances surrounding his untimely death. Think of how Carla the female gorilla took an orphaned baby boy of a couple killed by a leopard and nurtured him until he became a grown man in the community of gorillas that became the only family he knew. We can’t say for sure if indeed it is possible for a gorilla to protect and nurture a human baby, having to prove this in real life situation would be such a big risk, but in this case the gorilla involved is male – Harambe.
Harambe had just turned 17 and the Cincinatti Zoo officials had put up a post on Facebook asking fans to celebrate Harambe. And then under 24 hours the unimaginable happened. A four-year-old boy crawled past the railing and fell 10ft into the gorilla exhibit moat where Harambe was kept spending more than 10 minutes. He landed in the water and was faced with Harambe, the 400 pound silverback gorilla. Everyone at the scene including the mom got hysterical, screaming and calling on the boy to be calm. The incident was captured on a cell phone camera.
Watching the little boy and the gorilla would get anyone apprehensive. But from all indications the gorilla didn’t seem like he was going to harm the boy. Witnesses said the gorilla was ‘acting protectively’ in the tense situation, which may have been aggravated by panicked onlookers who screamed as they watched from above, and the zoo official confirmed the boy was not under attack. A particularly touching moment was when the boy held out his hand and Harambe took it and they briefly held hands. The clip also showed Harambe standing guard over the boy in the corner of the moat. Then Harambe was seen dragging the boy along as he crossed to another end of the moat as onlookers screamed. The tension was dreadfully high even for those of us who only watched the video.
Unfortunately Harambe’s end came when he was fatally shot with a rifle while the boy was still between his legs. The little boy was rescued and taken to the hospital. The boy’s mother, Michelle Gregg, wrote a Facebook post saying: “My son is safe and was able to walk away with a concussion and a few scrapes… no broken bones or internal injuries.” She called the incident an accident. The incident drew worldwide outrage as many are asking why Harambe had to be killed over what they termed the carelessness of a mother, with thousands of mourners branding it a ‘senseless death’.
A similar incidence happened 30 years ago when a five-year-old British boy fell into a zoo’s gorilla enclosure and was touchingly protected by a giant male silverback named Jambo, who stood guard as he lay unconscious on the floor after the nasty fall. The boy was eventually rescued alive and recently granted an interview on the incident.
Did Cincinnati Zoo really have to kill Harambe? What other measures could have been taken?
The chairman of the Gorilla Organization, told CNN: ‘When gorilla or other apes have things they shouldn’t have, keepers will negotiate with them, bring food, their favorite treats, pineapple or some kind of fruit that they don’t know and negotiate with them.’
A primatologist said: ‘The gorilla enclosure should have been surrounded by a secondary barrier between the humans and the animals to prevent exactly this type of incident.’
Gorillas have shown adaptive learning. In a short video online, a gorilla was taught what to do when a human falls – “Walk to your pen.” And thatvwas exactly what he did! Maybe more zoo officials could adopt that.
The Zoo director said: “Looking back we would make the same decision”. He confirmed the boy was not under attack, but called it a ‘life threatening situation’ where the gorilla was agitated, disoriented, and behaved erratically. “You’re talking about an animal that’s over 400 pounds and extremely strong. So no, the child wasn’t under attack but all sorts of things could happen in a situation like that. He certainly was at risk.” He explained that tranquilizing the gorilla, which could have taken several attempts and would have left the boy in danger since the effect would not have been immediate with the possibility of agitating the animal even more. He insisted barriers were secure, and asked: “Do you know any four-year-olds? They can climb over anything. We all need to work to make sure our families are safe.”
Others have continued placing the blame squarely on the boy’s parents. More than 115,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for the mother and father to be ‘held accountable for their actions of not supervising their child’.
What if the onlookers were made to leave the scene, could that have helped calm the agitating gorilla and not have to kill him before rescuing the boy? Medicine after death, you would say.
Losing Harambe this way is indeed heartbreaking, but a child’s life was in danger and a quick decision had to be made. Not everyone would agree it was the right decision, but definitely a tough choice. Senseless killing it might be, but a big relief to know a precious life was saved.
What do you think?
You may reach Grace via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also connect with her on twitter @GraceEssen, on Facebook, and also follow her blog @Mum2MumAfrica.com.