At the Cincinnati Zoo, it was a day pretty much like any other. Harambe had just celebrated his seventeenth birthday the day before. Life had been good. No reason to expect this day to be any different.
Harambe was in the water enjoying himself. He splashed about, entranced by the manner in which ever-changing patterns of reflected sunlight danced on the water’s surface. The contact of liquid coolness on his skin was pleasurable. The sun’s warmth on his face felt wonderful. Was Harambe thinking about what the day would bring? As far as I know, guerrillas are quite in the moment. After all what else is there?
But then the oddest and most unexpected thing occurred.
A human child toddled into his life. An illusion, no, the real thing. He could see the boy. He could also smell him. Harambe blinked. The child was obviously impressed by his huge size. Harambe weighed over 400 pounds. For a moment, each stared into the eyes of the other. There was the briefest glimmer of a shared intelligence. The two touched hands.
Then the clumsy kid’s legs gave way, and he sat down in the water. Just plopped right in. Well, that was no good. So, Harambe reached in and scooped him up, stood him up straight. Even adjusted the toddler’s water-logged and saggy trousers.
But then, something else commanded Harambe’s attention.
The guerrilla sensed commotion in the nearby vicinity. The sounds had a different tone than those the Silverback usually heard from his daily visitors. The sounds mirrored those that the now. frightened child was beginning to make - the shock of the initial encounter diminishing.
But the noises from outside. seemed even more frightened. Cries of desperate alarm. Yes, he heard how the screaming from the nearby hillside increased and grew more desperate with each passing moment. Or maybe, he was just becoming more attuned to it. It didn’t matter to him, to his sense of self-preservation, the impact would be the same. The howling. The sense of danger looming. He could not know that he was the source of that concern. Why would that thought occur to him? No time to waste. Instinct kicked into high gear. Harambe latched onto the toddler’s. hand.
Harambe gripped the tiny hand hard and tight so it could not slip away. The Silverback’s powerful legs chugged towards safer ground. He didn’t know the young child couldn’t move his feet quick enough to keep up. Maybe, Harambe took it for granted that the child could and would swing up wth his other free arm, grab onto his protector, who would boost him up onto his shoulder, so he could ride to safety. Harambe was moving on pure instinct. And as he did, the kid was flung about and bounced off the concrete surface of the “pond.” But Harambe didn’t know this. It did not concern him. His attention was elsewhere.
Outside the enclosure, everything was happening quickly. The situation demanded it. The Dangerous Animal Response Team (DART) arrived upon the scene. Decisions were made. Protocol followed. The pressure was intense. One life had to be chosen over another. The choice was made to preserve human life. You can’t judge from a video. This wasn’t a football game. Only those on the spot could assume responsibility and make the final call. They did.
Harambe had been born in captivity. As a member of an endangered species, in the zoo he was at least being protected. Harambe’s continued existence was hope for his kind. He had known no other life. He had his own private resort with room service. In return, all he had to do was be on display so people could better understand the importance of the Lowland Guerilla. Maybe if such understanding grew, there would indeed be hope. Maybe people would be inspired to do more. It was a good deal, right? The bars were both for his protection and the protection of his visitors. What could go wrong? It’s not like this happens everyday. The zoo had been in operation for over a hundred years. Nothing like this had ever happened before.
Even so, preparations had been made.
Harambe didn’t know this. He just went about his everyday life. Then an uninvited human child crawled into his cage. When he tried to understand what the hell was going on, and did the best he could in response to the unexpected, he got shot. Dead.
The first news reports I heard were terrible — eleven separate injuries to the three-year old, each life threatening. Today I heard this was not the case. However dire and life-threatening the situation may have been, the injuries sustained by the child evidently were not. The toddler survived. He has returned home. He will heal. Maybe he will need psych counseling. Maybe he will not wander into guerrilla enclosures. Maybe he will forget the experience, others taking its place. Maybe it will be a story he tells his high school buddies or his grandkids. Or maybe he will even follow in the steps of Jane Goodall. Whatever he does, his life will go on.
But Harambe’s dead. There’s that quote attributed to Bob Dylan: “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” Seriously, some days it doesn’t pay to get out of bed.
Oh, one final note:
If I remember right, there is a word in Swahili, one that sounds like the Silverback’s name, Harambe. Something about pulling together for the benefit of the community.