I had not planned on writing about the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla that was shot dead after a four-year-old boy fell into the enclosure. But I received several requests to address this, including a three-worded email that simply stated, "Write about Harambe!"
Let me begin in childhood...
My brother Jonny loved animals, and every June we would go to the zoo for his birthday. I remember going to the Bronx Zoo on his third or fourth birthday, and Jonny standing on a bench provided for children so he could look at the gorillas.
Both of Mummy's arms were wrapped around Jonny's torso, as he stretched his little hands toward the animals. He said that he wanted to go and play with the "monkeys," and he kept wiggling trying to free himself and climb over the barriers.
Mummy promised to get him a toy monkey before we left, and told Jonny that those were real gorillas and much too big and strong for him to play with. The more he squirmed trying to get free, the tighter she held him.
So my first thought regarding the majestic Harambe is, That could have been my brother inside a gorilla enclosure, except he had a parent who did not let him out of her embrace for a second.
I realize that parenting is an exhausting occupation which requires a lot of resources, of which finances are a significant one. But the most important resource a parent can give their child is their time and attention.
With the excess distractions of this age, increasingly more mothers and fathers are diagnosed as "distracted parents" who pay more attention to their technological devices than their offspring. This is causing an alarming increase in childhood injuries. (Here is one reference, from The Wall Street Journal.)
(Kindly note, I am not suggesting that in the Cincinnati Zoo case, the parents were distracted by their devices. I am making an observation about our society as a whole, and the lack of attention given to children.)
I can sympathize with those who grieve for Harambe and mourn the loss of an innocent gorilla's life.
However, I have even more sympathy for the four-year-old toddler who fell into Harambe's enclosure. Whatever his parents were distracted with, should not have been more important than the safety of their child.
I believe that with proper parental supervision, this little boy would not have fallen into the gorilla pen. Witnesses stated they heard the toddler say he wanted to go into the enclosure. The appropriate response of the parents should have been to hold onto their child tightly and not let him out of their sight for a moment.
In summary, this entire incident was caused by parental negligence.
I recommend a new national decree stating that if any child enters an enclosure in a zoo, the parents (or guardians) will be wholly responsible for their child's injuries and trauma. When such parental negligence causes an injury or loss of life to an animal, the financial penalties to those parents should be severe.
If every parent faced such consequences of their negligence allowing their child to fall into a primate enclosure, it's hopeful to say that the very last gorilla being needlessly shot will be Harambe.