You know the story. The other day a precocious 4-year-old boy climbed over a fence at the Cincinnati Zoo, then fell about ten feet into the gorilla exhibit, while zoo visitors looked on in horror.
Witnesses suggest that in the moments before this nightmare unfolded, the boy was joking with his mom about what would happen if he fell into the enclosure. Mom is not good at paying attention, I suppose.
Mom is not... good.
A young adult male gorilla, Harambe, became curious about the sudden invasion of his world by this tiny interloper. Gorillas are big and strong. Harambe weighed about 400 pounds. The average adult male gorilla has somewhere between 10 and 20 times the strength of the average adult male human.
So the child was certainly in danger. Harambe could have killed the small boy at any moment, and without any real effort. Instead, he did what many onlookers thought of as "protecting" the boy. Indeed, initially, he pulled up the boy's pants, which had fallen down in the accident.
Gorillas are funny. They don't wear pants themselves, but apparently they know what they're for. Which is pulling up. We should hire about a thousand gorillas to go around America, pulling up the pants of adolescent male wannabe tough guys.
Anyway, there is precedent for the idea of a gorilla protecting a child. Thirty years ago, at a zoo in Jersey, UK, an adult male gorilla named Jambo stood guard over another small boy who fell into the gorilla enclosure (what is the deal with small boys?), and fended off other gorillas who tried to approach the boy. He did this until the zookeeper arrived.
Things took a scary turn with Harambe, though. He suddenly grabbed his small boy by the ankle and started dragging the waif through a water feature in the exhibit. No one was quite sure what to make of this, though chimpanzees, at least, are known to try to revive unconscious chimps by putting them in water.
This is when zoo staff shot and killed Harambe.
|Harambe, moments before his doom, pulls up the pants of the unidentified small boy.|
What Other Options Were There?
I believe that the zoo administrators made a difficult decision, and probably the right decision for the circumstances. Given the current state of affairs, other options were limited.
Shooting Harambe with a tranquilizer was impossible because the tranquilizer would have taken too long to kick in, and the massive gorilla might have become agitated by the dart.
The only other option would have been to wait and see what Harambe did, and then try to coax the child out of his grasp. When Harambe became annoyed by all the attention and crushed the child like a paper cup, waiting would have been roundly (and deservedly) criticized as a bad non-decision.
But going forward, there is another option. Like many good solutions, it is simple and elegant.
Shoot the child instead.
Look, western lowland gorillas are critically endangered in the wild. There are less than 75,000 of them left. Meanwhile, small boys are abundant. There are hundreds of millions of them, possibly billions, and the human race is producing more of them all the time. As a group, they are in no danger at all, and they are clearly a threat to lowland gorillas.
I'm not joking. It would be easy to do this. Simply make a rule, at every zoo and animal attraction on Earth, that if you go in the enclosure with the animals, we will be forced to kill you. This would apply not only to small boys, but to any human at all.
People sign a waiver when they come in. Parents sign for their children. Post signs to this effect on every enclosure fence or barrier. If a human goes over the fence, then it's open season. Kill the human. Save the animal.
Unlike some people, I don't think zoos are a terrible idea. I enjoy going to zoos and seeing animals I could never see in the wild. But if we are going to have zoos, we need to protect from human stupidity the endangered animals who live within them.
Humans aren't endangered. We've got many more than we need. We can't protect every single human from their own behavior, especially not at the cost of a single, precious animal life.
If we can't handle this minimum standard, then we should think about phasing zoos out altogether.