Friday, 3 June 2016

Harambe the Gorilla Put Zoo in Lose-Lose Situation, by Being Himself (Op-Ed)

By Robert John YoungUniversity of Salford | June 1, 2016 08:04am ET

A gorilla at Cincinnati Zoo has been shot dead after a boy fell into his enclosure. When I told my wife, a former vice director of a zoo, she first asked if the boy was okay and then said how terrible for the keeper who shot the gorilla. I hadn’t thought about it from the perspective of the zoo keeper who pulled the trigger. But my wife is right: it must have been a terrible thing for that person, something that may haunt them for the rest of their life.

From this perspective, the case reminds me of the ending of John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men when George has to kill his friend Lennie out of love rather than Lennie be killed by a lynch mob. Except that Harambe the gorilla, unlike Lennie, had not accidentally killed anyone. Watching the video of Harambe dragging the young boy through the moat was frightening and whether this was done to harm the child or not, it is clear that the boy’s injuries could have been far worse.

Yet Harambe was simply doing what any male gorilla would do when confronted with an intruder in his territory. Captive gorillas are trained by their keepers to go to their indoor enclosure on command, but in such an emotionally-charged situation this training does not always work. The two female gorillas responded to the calls of their keepers to go inside, but Harambe did not. When our adrenaline levels are sky high, I’m sure we have all failed to do what we are told.

Previous cases have ended without bloodshed, such as the 1986 incident when a boy fell into the gorilla enclosure at Jersey Zoo in the Channel Islands. The male gorilla, Jambo, famously stood over the unconscious child and protected him, perhaps realizing his motionlessness meant he was in distress. The keepers thus took a calculated risk based on their knowledge of Jambo’s personality and behavior, and climbed into the enclosure to rescue the boy.

It is hard to imagine that zoo staff in the US – with its obsession with litigation – would dare enter an enclosure in such a situation.

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