Neither Rin Tin Tin or Baloo are real, folks. The gorilla was and it had to be killed. The mother was negligent. And the Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla display isn’t safe enough.
A good portion of my life has been spent teaching the dangers of anthropomorphization: Everyone involved from the zoo to the mother and child, to the authorities now conducting investigations are guilty of treating animals like people.
A human is more important than a gorilla. It’s unfortunate that situations like this force this distinction to be emphasized, because animals are one of the best conduits for leading us to better understandings of our planet’s ecologies. But like many good things sometimes it goes too far.
As a zoo director friend told me yesterday, “That gorilla can crush a coconut with his hand.”
Criticism of the zoo’s crisis response unit comes mainly from animal rights groups with exaggerated or incorrect arguments:
Harambee was not a “mountain gorilla,” of which there are fewer than a 1000 left. He was of the lowland gorilla species, of which there are 50,000 -90,000.
That’s still a critically endangered animal but it’s not the imminent threatened mountain gorilla that many are claiming.
Harambee was not captured in a West African jungle. He was born in the Gladys Porter Zoo in Texas. The vast majority of animals seen today in zoos have been born in zoos.
This is hardly the first time something like this has happened. The most recent was three years ago when a 2-year child fell into a pack of wild dogs in the Pittsburgh Zoo and was mauled to death.
Like with the current Cincinnati gorilla incident, the public was quick to judge the mother was mostly at fault in Pittsburgh. She sued, anyway, and the zoo settled.
Other recent incidents include a loyal animal keeper killed by the tiger she had cared for.
In all cases blame spreads pretty equally between the victim or the victim’s guardian, and the zoo. Zoos’ attempts at modernization have included better exhibits, but these exhibits probably compromise safety for entertainment.
But while the blame may spread around, the responsibility for an incident like this stops squarely at the zoo. They are the organizer, they invited the people with their children to come, and they must prepare for every conceivable eventuality.
Cincinnati did not.
I’ve written before that zoos have neglected safety for gate receipts and media. It was totally appropriate that Pittsburgh paid the family of the killed child thousands if not millions of dollars, even though they were not only to blame.
It’s an awesome responsibility zoos have assumed, and it begins by letting the visiting public understand the danger, and if that means a slightly worse view of the animal, so be it.
What is curious in this most recent Cincinnati case, though, is that it is so similar to the Pittsburgh case with the exception of the animal involved. This was a lowland gorilla. The Pittsburgh case involved wild (painted) dogs.
Wild dogs are actually more endangered ecologically than lowland gorillas, yet the outcry with this incident is considerable sharper.
I think that has to do mostly with the video. There was no video of the Pittsburgh incident. That suggests a large portion of our population doesn’t read, only watches.
That, by the way, is one of the distinctions between a person and a gorilla.
Yes, it was the right decision. The videos show gorilla was pulling child around the moat like a rag doll. Tranquilizers would take 20 minutes to kick in. The gorilla could have done something harmful to the child, with intention to harm or not (if the attribution of intention to harm isn’t an improper overlay of human attributes in this case). Sure, the gorilla could have been saved, but risks of doing so far outweighed the harm in the choice to kill the animal.
Well said, Jim!
As usual right on target.
This blog is excellent. I will pass it along.
yes they had to kill the gorilla, but I am heartbroken. (PS: where was Dad?!)
I find the uproar over this annoying and disgusting and tinged with racism. Rant over.
You asked me what I think!! I think you’re a jerk to say the zoo is responsible! What about the irresponsible parents! Have you followed their background?
gorillas can watch videos too
and use touch screens of computers for learning
I am afraid u r right Jim but the zoo should never have been put in that position. They r at fault for that type of enclosure and the mom should have kept that child under her control! What was she thinking? For this reason and other reasons, I do not condone zoos unless someone can convince me that they r truly preserving endangered species which, in this case, they did not!
Read and appreciate your even handed evaluation of subject.
Thank you Jim! Can not believe (last nights news) 500k signed petition condemning Mother/Zoo. VERY mute point…the child’s life had to be saved; immediately! End of conversation.
Let’s not jump to conclusions here! You weren’t there. Anybody who is a parent knows that you can watch toddlers like a hawk, but they will get into trouble in a flash the second you turn your head, even after you’ve told them “No” repeatedly. You’d have to put a leash on the child, which is exactly what I did when my boys were little.
Of course the gorilla had to go. It’s just a shame the mother had no control. The kid should have been on a leash if he was unruly. If she had been at the Grand Canyon the kid would be dead. I’d like to smack her for her selfish stupidity. One cannot ignore a child in a crowd for any reason. She will probably sue for trauma. I agree the exhibit must now be fenced off because of idiots like her. There are no “oops” or do-overs with children and I get angry reading and viewing young parents who are way too casual with human life, taking or staring at their cells while Johnny plays in traffic.
Why can’t way live in a world of shared responsibility any more? Seems this is a nice defensible case of that to me!
I think that the zoo holds some liability and likely, no more or less than the parents who are also accountable.
Thoughtful consideration of the issues