Going Ape Over Gorilla Killing Wrong

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Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if we ever discuss the issues that actually matter, such as skyrocketing college tuition, a broken health care system and illegal immigration.

But we don’t. Instead, we get sucked into vitriolic national debates on preposterous issues (i.e.: transgender bathrooms).

In that regard, the latest firestorm dominating headlines is animal rights extremists going ape because a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo was killed in order to rescue a human being.

After a 4-year old boy fell into the primate enclosure, Harambe, a 17-year old, 450-pound male silverback gorilla, hovered over the toddler – at times appearing threatening – and dragged him like a rag doll through the water-filled moat. Zoo Director Thane Maynard, fearing for the boy’s life, ordered the special response team to shoot the animal.

This should have been a one-day story about the heroic efforts of zoo officials, the tragic loss of Harambe notwithstanding. But since "rationality" and "animal rights extremists" are mutually-exclusive, the airwaves have been filled with loudmouths throwing a monkey wrench into what should have been a celebration of common sense.

Since we can’t let the loudest voice win, here is a sober look at the situation:

1) Above all, innocent human life comes first. Always. Humans clawed their way to the top of the animal kingdom, and deserve first priority. Is it sad that Harambe died? Absolutely. Is it doubly tragic that Western lowland silverbacks are highly endangered in the wild, and there are relatively few in captivity? No question. But when you cut through the fur, Harambe is still an animal. And when human is pitted against animal, there are no points for second place.

Caveat: the key word is "innocent" human life. If an adult decides to be a moron and voluntarily jumps into an animal exhibit, all bets are off. Sure, efforts should be made to save him, but killing the animal should be off the table. Actions have consequences, and animals should not be penalized for someone’s idiocy.

In the same vein, too many animals, from alligators to bears to mountain lions, are hunted and killed after attacking a human in the wild. No healthy animal should be killed in its natural domain for behaving as nature intended. Again, actions have consequences, and if people want to swim and hike in areas known to harbor dangerous animals, they should be willing to take the risks – or stay home.

2) Many extremists are busy protesting the killing, creating online petitions and memorializing Harambe. But what’s not clear is what they’re actually protesting.

For those outraged that the gorilla was shot, here’s a simple question: if officials didn’t act quickly by shooting Harambe, what was the alternative?

Should they have sung Kumbaya with him in the hope that he would join them and forget about the child? Strike one.

How about sending a team in to distract Harambe? Sorry, but that didn’t work. Officials used special calls to successfully remove other gorillas from the exhibit. But Harambe, who was "clearly disoriented" and "acting erratically," according to Director Maynard, didn’t respond. Any attempt by humans to approach Harambe could have, and likely would have, been perceived as a threat by the behemoth, who, as a reaction, could have deliberately or inadvertently hurt or killed the boy. Remember, this is an animal so immensely strong that it can crush a coconut with one hand. Strike two.

Then why not tranquilize him? Because, as primate experts pointed out, A) it would have taken time to take effect – time zoo officials didn’t have, and B) because Harambe was already stimulated, any tranquilizer likely would have made him more agitated. Combined with the screams of onlookers, some of whom were on the wall seemingly ready to jump into the exhibit, a tranquilized gorilla may well have lashed out violently, killing the boy. Strike three.

So the question stands: if shooting the gorilla was wrong, then what was the viable alternative? Anyone?

Admittedly, there is one more option that was not utilized: tasering the gorilla. Likely, the taser operator would have had to get uncomfortably close for an effective shot, and in doing so, would have jeopardized the boy’s safety. Nonetheless, that is a question that deserves an answer.

Bottom line: We would all be a lot better off protesting the things that truly matter, such as the senseless violence wreaking havoc in our cities (more than 40 shootings occurred in President Obama’s hometown of Chicago over the holiday weekend).

The justified killing of an animal to save an innocent child is protested, but the silence is deafening when countless young Americans die on our streets. Go figure.

3) The mother should not face criminal charges, as many are demanding. What parents haven’t lost momentary sight of their child, especially when caring for several children? Four-year olds are naturally curious, and have no fear climbing barriers. That’s called "being four." Is the mother ultimately responsible? Yes. But having almost lost her son right before her eyes is punishment enough. Criminal charges would solve nothing.

By the same token, she should not sue. The barrier was reportedly up to code, and met safety guidelines of both the federal government and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The mother’s mistake – one which could happen to anyone – nonetheless occurred on her watch; therefore, the zoo, and by extension its patrons, should not be penalized because of an individual’s momentary lack of responsibility.

On a related note, several media publications have detailed the father’s criminal past (even though it appears he has turned his life around). That’s disgraceful, since it has absolutely no relevance to the situation. Dragging someone through the mud illustrates why the media is regarded with such disdain.

4) Extremists are criticizing the zoo for not having a second barrier between people and gorillas. But under that rationale, why not have three or four? And while we’re at it, let’s keep all animals at least 500 feet from zoo-goers. Of course, if that happens, people will no longer go to the zoo, forcing closures.

And that’s precisely their goal, as they believe zoos to be evil incarnate.

Of course, the extremists conveniently duck the fact that zoos keep animals healthy; conduct valuable, lifesaving research; and actively breed, keeping bloodlines alive. The last thing officials would want is for one their family members, especially an endangered gorilla and star attraction, to be harmed.

Every year, someone falls from a stadium’s upper deck, almost always the result of irresponsibility. In the aftermath, there is a deluge of nonstop coverage about how stadium officials will reevaluate their railings to make them "safer." But that’s the wrong answer, as we shouldn’t be changing things that work solely because of a freak accident or acts of monumental stupidity.

It’s the same with the Cincinnati Zoo. Its officials acted responsibly in an extremely rare situation, and saved a human life, for which they should be commended. So without further delay, let’s end this ridiculous debate, reopen the exhibit, get another gorilla in there, and keep alive the wonderment of seeing animals up close and personal.

After all, this isn’t Planet of the Apes. At least not yet.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]