Over the weekend, a 4-year-old boy fell into the gorilla pit at the Cincinnati Zoo. Officials had to act fast, as Harambe, an endangered western lowlands gorilla, was in full control of the boy with his massive 450-pound frame. In the end, the gorilla was shot dead, and the boy was returned to his family with only minor injuries.
The fallout from this incident has been tremendous, with some metaphorically calling for the heads of the family whose perceived negligence caused the death of a confused animal. Experts have come out in defense of the zoo’s actions but despite this, petitions have been created to hold the mother accountable for her son escaping her and falling into the pit below. Hindsight is 20/20, with the how and why surrounding the child’s plunge into the enclosure being the primary focus, but many experts aren’t considering that at this time. The decision to shoot Harambe was difficult but consistently being lauded as the correct decision to make.
The latest explanation of why Harambe had to die was made by former zookeeper Amanda O’Donoughue. Her entire post is worth the lengthy read, but there are a few choice snippets that stand out:
I keep hearing that the Gorilla was trying to protect the boy. I do not find this to be true. Harambe reaches for the boys hands and arms, but only to position the child better for his own displaying purposes.
Males do very elaborate displays when highly agitated, slamming and dragging things about. Typically they would drag large branches, barrels and heavy weighted balls around to make as much noise as possible. Not in an effort to hurt anyone or anything (usually) but just to intimidate. It was clear to me that he was reacting to the screams coming from the gathering crowd.
Harambe was most likely not going to separate himself from that child without seriously hurting him first (again due to mere size and strength, not malicious intent) Why didn’t they use treats? well, they attempted to call them off exhibit (which animals hate), the females in the group came in, but Harambe did not. What better treat for a captive animal than a real live kid!
They didn’t use Tranquilizers for a few reasons, A. Harambe would’ve taken too long to become immobilized, and could have really injured the child in the process as the drugs used may not work quickly enough depending on the stress of the situation and the dose B. Harambe would’ve have drowned in the moat if immobilized in the water, and possibly fallen on the boy trapping him and drowning him as well.
There are a lot of opinions coming forth about the intentions of Harambe. Some of these opinions are based on not seeing the full video. Harambe was displaying the exact actions O’Donoughue described. He was dragging around the boy, displaying him. If the zookeepers hadn’t acted, a child may have been mercilessly and publicly killed. No one wants that to happen.