The shooting of a western lowland gorilla at Cincinnati Zoo has sparked controversy, a backlash, a petition, and divided opinion.
A boy, around the age of 3 to 4 years old, managed to get into the gorilla enclosure at the zoo on Saturday, May 28. A 17-year-old adult male silverback called Harambe approached the boy in a shallow pool near the front of the enclosure. Amid screams from concerned onlookers, the 180-kilogram (400-pound) gorilla then grabbed the boy by his legs and dragged him through the water several times. After 10 minutes, a member of the zoo’s staff shot Harambe dead. The boy was taken to hospital with a concussion and minor scrapes but was released shortly after.
Videos and images of the event quickly circulated on social media, along with many using the hashtag #JusticeForHarambe to condemn the shooting of a critically-endangered gorilla.
Why was this Gorilla murdered ? No trial - no reason. No excuse. Who will prosecute ? Bri https://t.co/g1baEqwojC
— Dr. Brian May (@DrBrianMay) 29 May 2016
It seems that some gorillas make better parents than some people.
— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) 29 May 2016
Many people have pointed to previous examples of children coming into contact with gorillas, which were defused without the need to deploy fatal force. For example, on the island of Jersey in 1986, a 5-year-old boy fell into a gorilla enclosure. While unconscious on the floor of the enclosure, a silverback gorilla named Jambo appeared to guard and stroke the boy's back and protect him from the other gorillas. Eventually, the gorillas retreated, the boy was saved by medics and the gorillas remained unharmed. You watch a video of that here.
The story has raised debates about how zoos should deal with emergency situations involving animals in their care and their guests – primarily, why the zoo didn’t use tranquilizers.
At a press conference on Monday, the zoo said that tranquilizers can take several minutes and numerous darts to take effect on a large animal. By this time, the gorilla could have unintentionally harmed the child – especially since the tranquilizer darts can often irritate and agitate animals.
The child’s parents have also come under considerable criticism on social media, including a Change.org petition with over 300,000 signatures asking the police, the zoo, and child protection services to hold the parents accountable for the child's trauma and Harambe's death.
The petition reads: "This heartbreaking decision was made in the best interests of keeping the child and the public safe.This beautiful gorilla lost his life because the boy's parents did not keep a closer watch on the child... It is believed that the situation was caused by parental negligence and the zoo is not responsible for the child's injuries and possible trauma. We the undersigned want the parents to be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life."
The director of the Cincinnati Zoo, Thane Maynard, answered questions at a press conference on Monday, in which he ultimately stood by the decision but also spoke of the deep sadness of losing one of the zoo’s favorite animals.
Maynard said, “Naturally, we did not take the shooting of Harambe lightly but that child's life was in danger. And the people who question that... don't understand that you can't take a risk with a silverback gorilla. They're very big, three times bigger than a man, six times stronger than that.
“This is a dangerous animal. I know you've seen photos, videos and say 'Gosh, he doesn't seem dangerous.' We're talking about an animal with one hand – that I've seen [do this] – can take a coconut and crunch it.”
He added, "Looking back, we would make the same decision."