Since I was a child I have felt a special connection and empathy for all animals. It was something I couldn’t always explain, but I do know it drove my poor mother crazy. I was forever bringing all sorts of pets home, and any injured or stray animal that crossed my path. She would always joke that it was like the animals knew, if they found me, they would be safe. I have never understood when people would say ‘it’s only an animal’. I guess I always felt that I needed to speak up for them because they didn’t have a voice.
With Harambe being killed over the weekend after a 4 year old fell in to his enclosure the issue has been talked about, debated, argued over and people seem to be on one side or the other, there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. I have been in tears over the death of this majestic and endangered Silver Back Gorilla for a number of different reasons. Firstly this beautiful gorilla was in the enclosure because humans had put him there. Harambe was bred in captivity, so could never have been released in to the wild, but it is not natural for these animals to live in such confined areas and have crowds that can get very loud standing there staring at them all day. Don’t misunderstand me here, I’m not anti all zoo’s, I think some do great things for conservation and truly do their best to create enriching environments for the animals in their care, but there are many more zoos that see these animals as nothing more than a commodity. In my opinion, because we have put these animals in to these enclosures, it is up to us to ensure their safety, comfort and development.
The conflict comes in over the child that fell in to Harambe’s enclosure, and how Harambe was ultimately killed as a result. The enclosure that Harambe was kept in was built in 1978 and has never before been breached. The child involved was overheard telling his mother that he wanted to go in to the water and play with the gorillas. At that point, one would reasonably assume that the mother/parents in charge of that child would be making sure the child was listening to them. Let me say here, while I do not personally have any children I have spent a lot of time around small children. I am aware how quickly they can dart off and misbehave, but I have also witnessed the difference between a disciplined child versus and undisciplined child as well as an engaged versus non-engaged parent. By all descriptions of the barriers around the enclosure it sounds a lot like the enclosure used to be at the Melbourne Zoo 30 years ago. There was a barrier, and section of bushes before a 15-foot drop to the moat below. If the child breached that first barrier, was there not enough time for someone to notice he was on the wrong side of that barrier before he plunged those 1feet? Many people are talking about how the zoo is liable for not having adequate barriers erected. Again, this enclosure has been this way since 1978 and there has never been an incident before this. The barriers in question were checked for safety etc. just one month prior and passed said inspection. At what point are humans meant to be accountable for their own actions and the children in their care? That is the part that bothers me. I know that no one is perfect, and mistakes will always be made, that’s life, but this was a fatal mistake for an animal that was trapped in an enclosure that had no where to go, and was essentially just having a look at this foreign person/thing that was in his home and being the gorilla he was. The screaming crowds only inflamed the whole situation. Harambe who turned 17 the day before was shot dead. I’m not saying that the child’s life was less important than Harambe’s, what I am saying is this incident should not have happened.
We as humans share 95-99% of our DNA with the Western Lowland Gorilla. They are gentle vegetarians who only fight to defend their families. It is a particularly brutal way for a gentle creature to have his life ended through no fault of his own. Gorillas live in family units and do grieve the loss of their loved ones. It is beyond sad for all involved, the females gorillas that are left, the zoo keepers who had to shoot him, the keepers who hand raised and looked after him, and this child and his family that have to live with the death of Harmabe forever.
Harambe’s death comes just one week after a suicidal man jumped in to the Lion enclosure in Santiago’s Metropolitan Zoo in Chile, stripped naked and antagonised the lions until they began to maul him. Keepers tried to spray the lions with water, then attempted to dart them with tranquilisers but missed and eventually killed 2 of the lions. It has since been discovered that not only was the man suicidal, but he suffers with mental illness. The keepers at the zoo clearly did everything in their power to get the lion’s away from this man in order to save his life, but those lions are now dead. Once again, animals that were just doing what they are meant to do, but in an enclosed environment which they have been put in to by humans, for the entertainment of humans, have been killed because of a humans actions.
We are currently facing mass extinction on this planet. There are long lists of animals that have become extinct because of being hunted until there were none left and loss of habitat. Last year the world was outraged by the murder of Cecil the lion. A trophy hunter lured Cecil out of the protected National park he lived in and then murdered him. Why?? Because Walter Palmer is a big game hunter and wanted to kill a lion, that’s it – no other reason.
In Sumatra, the Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Elephant and Sumatran Orang-utan’s are critically endangered. It is believed there are less than 100 Sumatran Rhino remaining in the world. These animals have been killed for medicines, for trophies, for the illegal pet trade (the mothers are killed and the babies are then sold on to the black market). The biggest reason for their declining numbers at the moment is conflict palm oil, where producers are illegally logging the rainforests and killing the animals that live there, they are considered nothing more than pests.
Just in the last 24/48 hours the famous Tiger Temple in Thailand has been raided after years of allegations that the animals that were abnormally docile, were being drugged and not taken care of properly. The tigers are being removed and in the process of all of this over 40 carcasses of tiger cubs have been found. Why was the Tiger Temple still functioning? Because tourists wanted to go and pat these animals and take selfies with them.
I could continue listing all of the different species that are facing extinction at the moment and why, but the reality is there is one common denominator and that is humans. It is the greed of humans, we want to be able to look at these animals, so we take them from the wild and put them in zoos. We want to have our photos taken with the cute baby chimpanzee and orang-utans, and don’t think about where they came from, how they are cared for or what happens to them when they become too big to be cute for photos or to be handled. Those are all of the questions we should be asking, and so many more.
We as humans consider ourselves superior because we have evolved to the state we are in. Gorillas’, share 95-99% or our DNA, Orangutans share 98% of our DNA. These are gentle, feeling, loving beings that have been shown to understand us and some have also learnt to communicate using sign language (Koko the gorilla, who mourned the loss of Robin Williams when she learnt of his death). They exist on the earth and live harmoniously within nature. They don’t kill for the sake of it or for excess. They fight for dominance and to protect their family units, they are vegetarians, and they just go about their lives. We as humans on the other hand treat these animals we share so much of our DNA with as if they are disposable.
Our environment and eco system is fragile as we as humans are destroying it. These beings that some refer to as ‘just an animal’ could teach us so much. By killing off all of these different species we are altering the entire eco system on this planet and we are changing our environment. By cutting down all of the rainforests we are cutting down the very things that give us clean air to breathe. I feel like there is a big shift in consciousness happening and incidents like Harambe’s and Cecil’s deaths are making people more vocal and aware of these shifting values. People are not visiting sea world in the same numbers they did previously after the movie Black Fish, as more footage of elephants being trained to take tourists on rides is coming to light, people are turning away from those tourist attractions. We need to start honouring these animals, all of them and we need to all start being accountable for our actions and the consequences. If we can’t be accountable for ourselves, the zoos need to be closed and turned in to nature reserves for these animals to live out their days in safety.
RIP Harambe. I am so sad for you, but you are free now and hopefully your death will lead to great change x