Most readers will already be familiar with a tragic incident which occurred May 28 at the Cincinnati Zoo. A three year old toddler, who was visiting the zoo with his parents, somehow got access to a gorilla enclosure, fell 15 feet into a pool of water and then was grabbed and dragged by Harambe, a 17 year old, 450 pound male gorilla. The gorilla was shot dead a few minutes later by zoo staff to ensure the boy’s safety.
Of course, after the shooting we were bombarded by online journalism stating “Facebook rages,” “the Internet explodes,” and “Twitter erupts.” Everyone was second-guessing the zoo’s decision to shoot the gorilla to ensure the kid was safe.
This is the point at which the story changes, depending on who is telling the tale. Some animal rights activities, including scientist Jane Goodall, claim, after watching video footage of the incident, that the boy was in no danger and the gorilla was in effect babysitting him.
However, one firefighter who responded to the incident stated the gorilla was “violently” dragging the child by his ankle.
This situation reminds me of a few incidents I’ve seen in my journalism career. About five years ago I was working in Rocky Mountain House when I heard over the police scanner an RCMP officer referring to a young moose that was running through town, and the fact that Fish and Wildlife officers were approaching it. A few minutes later, they shot it dead. The Fish and Wildlife supervisor later told me the moose was young and thin, and was running through residential backyards, jumping over things and was hanging around a daycare where little kids were playing in the yard; a moose isn’t necessarily going to intentionally harm a kid, but a moose is a large, wild animal. If it ran quickly and trampled a toddler, the kid could easily be killed. The supervisor said the Fish and Wildlife officers made the decision to shoot the young moose to ensure no toddler was at risk.
Why not tranquilize the moose? Maybe in TV land that works, but as the Fish and Wildlife supervisor explained, a tranquilizer takes time to affect the animal, up to an hour in some cases, and a toddler could be killed in the time it takes for the moose to be knocked out. The tranquilizer shot could just enrage the gorilla, making the situation worse.
A number of zoo employees with experience with gorillas have come forward to support the decision of the zoo to shoot poor Harambe. I’m sure the gorilla was quite bewildered by what was gong on, as 7,000 people were at the zoo that day and in the video it seemed every one of them was at the enclosure screaming and freaking out. Perhaps Goodall is correct on one point: Harambe probably wouldn’t have intentionally harmed the three-year-old toddler.
But, again, the male gorilla was 450 pounds and has physical strength about 10 times that of a human being. The animal could easily have harmed or killed a three-year-old kid wholly by accident.
But one more point, and probably the most important one, that needs to be considered is the time frame zoo officials had to make a decision. No one knew this incident was going to happen; officials literally had moments to make a move. It’s easy for people like Jane Goodall to watch video clips over and over again and then pass judgment on the decisions of others, but at the time a decision had to be made: either take a chance the gorilla won’t hurt the kid, or shoot the gorilla to ensure the kid is safe. The zoo officials made the correct choice.
Now officials need to look closely at how the kid got into the enclosure in the first place.
Stu Salkeld is the new editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.