On Saturday, May 28th the staff of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens in Ohio had to make a terrible decision. Both they and the country now mourn the loss of an endangered western lowland gorilla, Harambe. While the public makes a collective call for justice, we must remember that our moral outrage over neglectful parenting will not resurrect Harambe. Shouting our opinions on social media will not resurrect Harambe. There is nothing we can do to change what happened. The zoo had to make a decision and they had to make it quickly. It is not a position that I envy. I will not speak about whether they were right or wrong, but only where we can go from here. I respect zoo director Thane Maynard for his ability to handle the response from the public while also comforting zoo staff during a difficult time. I have no doubt that Harambe was loved; not simply as a creature to admire, but as an individual with his own presence and personality.
While we are all shocked at this situation, we must remember that gorillas are threatened every day. They are at risk due to human population growth, logging, mining, and road building. They are the victims when humans engage in violent conflict. Their young are left behind when their mothers are killed. They succumb to the same diseases that kill us. Gorillas, as well as other apes, are dying in the wild due to our own negligent behavior. We can sit in judgment of the child’s mother. We can sit in judgment of zoo staff. But who wins that game? It’s much easier recognize the failings of others than to recognize our own. We are all guilty.
Let’s not make decisions based on ignorance. We should seek out information from those who are knowable about primate behavior, as well as primate threats in the wild. Social media is abuzz with comments made from a place of misunderstanding. A misunderstanding of conservation, a misunderstanding of primate behavior, and I think, a misunderstanding of the child welfare system. I do not claim the public should not be outraged, but when we speak or act, we should do so from an educated perspective. Anything otherwise could be detrimental to the welfare of endangered species.
I do sometimes struggle with the idea of keeping great apes in captivity. At the same time, I think the public romanticizes life in the wild. Gorillas are not living wild and free as they should be able to do. Would you feel free if you were continually at risk of being killed for meat or having your home bulldozed? This is the reality they face. Perhaps we will learn that zoos were not the best place for our ancestral cousins, but the wild has not been kind to them either – for we are there too.
If we truly want justice for Harambe, we are going to have to work for it. If we are angry about the incident that took place at this zoo, then we should outraged at what is occurring every day and we should DO something about it. We have to be willing to educate ourselves and analyze where we need to change. We need to be aware that the choices we make have an impact on wildlife, including gorillas. This tragic event has shown us the public does care about the welfare of the great apes. We should use this as an opportunity to further educate our communities on the threats to ape populations, as well as what they can do to help. What better way to honor Harambe than to save lives?
Things you can do:
• Recycle your cell phone.
• Limit or curb your purchase of rayon clothing.
• Buy FSC sustainable timber.
• Buy products made with sustainable palm oil or products without.
• Volunteer at a primate rescue.
• If you are not opposed to zoos, volunteer with your local accredited zoo to educate the public on primate conservation.
• Support reputable organizations like the World Wildlife Fund.
For more information on the threat to apes and what you can do, please visit: The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and the Mbeli Bai Study.
For information on how palm oil (a common ingredient in products you probably have in your home) is a threat to the orangutan, please visit: Orangutan Foundation International.