For those who think animals don’t touch our daily lives, I offer the tragic tale of Harambe, the gorilla.
Harambe was the Western Lowland gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo who was killed by his keepers after a young boy entered into the gorilla enclosure. He was sacrificed because it was determined he was an imminent danger to the boy’s life. In hind sight the situation was the reverse. Harambe was just being a gorilla. Unfortunately in this world, bring a gorilla is a dangerous existence, be it in a zoo or his natural habitat in Africa. I have a very different view of the situation having spent nine years, almost a third of my career, working with nonhuman primates.
Though I never worked with gorillas, my professional path did cross with a few chimpanzees and many other nonhuman primate species. I can attest to their majesty, beauty, and that they are dangerous to work with and be around. As proof of the latter, I can show you a three inch scar on my left shoulder from reconstructive surgery due to an “interaction” with a cynologous monkey. I can also share a fond memory of an overly friendly female chimp who lifted me off the ground and over her head by the collars of my lab coat. They are fascinating animals to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for making our lives better through their sacrifices and contributions to biomedical research. It is understandable why some species are in captivity but why gorillas? The most often given reason is preservation.
The Western Lowland gorilla is a critically endangered species whose natural habitat includes the African countries of Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo. The estimates are fewer than 175,000 of the animals exist in the wild, with an additional 765 gorillas in captivity. Their natural habitat has been ravaged by civil war over the last two decades in addition to being devastated by poachers and habitat destruction. And what species is responsible for that?
As for the decision not to use tranquilizers, that was a determination made by a team of veterinarians. I have used tranquilizers with nonhuman primates and used tranquilizers on domestic animals on a daily basis. They don’t work instantly like on tv or in the movies. Tranquilizers also don’t work smoothly and efficiently, especially when used on an excited or agitated animal and can make a bad situation worse.
What I don’t understand is why our species is not doing more to protect endangered animals so they may live a natural life span as God intended. They obviously are not as safe and “preserved” in captivity as we would tend to believe. Lots has been said but when all is said, done, investigated, and reported, a tragedy has occurred. There has to be a better answer and we can only hope this helps us reach that answer sooner than later. Ironically, “Harambe” roughly translates from Swahili to mean “ come together. “
As I saw the initial news reports on the incidence, the zoo officials repeatedly referred to the loss of “this beautiful animal …” and how we are attracted and want to protect them because of their “…beauty and majesty.” I couldn’t help but remember the closing line of the classic movie “King Kong.” To paraphrase: “Oh no, it wasn’t the decision to take his life to save a child, it was beauty killed the beast.”