A gorilla has died and the twitterverse has noticed. The details of his death are clear. In Cincinnati Zoo, a four year old child found his way into Harambe’s enclosure and the staff shot the 400 pound silverback to save the child.
The condemnation is lighting up social media. The zoo has been criticised. There are calls to prosecute the mother. The decision to kill rather than tranquillise Harambe is disputed. The child was rescued almost unscathed by the way.
The child is alive and yet this is a tragedy! I’m not saying that to condemn those who are enraged by Harambe’s slaying. I say it to remind myself that perhaps my priorities are a tad askew. My first thought on reading this story was a kind of grief, followed by anger. There was not a thought for the child or his family. Why is that? Why such callous disregard for the fate of a little boy doing what little boys do? Why do I mourn for a dangerous animal that could quite possibly have killed that little boy?
If the little boy had gotten into a crocodile enclosure or into a field with a bull or found himself within a country mile of poisonous spiders I wouldn’t have bothered reading one article on the event. But Harambe was a gorilla and for some reason that matters to me. I had to convince myself to be pleased that a little boy was saved. Read that sentence again, I had to convince myself to be pleased that a little boy was saved.
Why do I feel this? Perhaps not having any children of my own means my perspective is unrounded. But I doubt it is only the childless who are angry about Harambe. Am I one of those who view animals as being the equal of humans? I’m not. I’ve thought about it. I know that since I got a dog, lived with her, gotten to know her, I’ve begun to seriously contemplate vegetarianism and perhaps even veganism. But I enjoyed a slow roasted leg of lamb for my birthday a few weeks ago. I’m not there yet and perhaps I may never get there, but I know that Harambe isn’t worth more or even the same as a child. If it had been an adult, who had gotten into Harambe’s enclosure then perhaps this would be a different conversation.
If it had been chimpanzees I’d be less upset. I love chimps but those are some scaldy fuckers. They are our closest relations, they are being wiped out, they look so much like us, but the threat they would’ve posed is indisputable.
And I guess that’s where the anguish lies. I’m one of those ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ adoring, Attenborough loving, Discovery Channel watching breed of gorilla lovers who feel a connection to gorillas that is emotional rather than rational. We, or I, can’t escape the feeling that if left to his own devices, Harambe would never harm that little boy. Such a noble being, such a wondrous creature, from his paternal embrace, the little boy would certainly have been returned, unhurt, to his mother.
If someone like me had been in charge of Cincinnati Zoo we’d have found out what Harambe would’ve done. There would now, be no uncertainty. The child may have been killed or maimed but we’d know.
Due to human error there was a tragedy (and yes I think Harambe’s death a tragedy) but some tragedies are more tragic than others. A rare and wondrous creature is dead, that we should mourn, but a little boy is alive today who could easily have died. A mother isn’t mourning her child. That is an untrammelled and objective good.