Harambe The Silverback Gorilla: Murdered While Serving Life Sentence at Cincinnati Zoo

Not that the Internet really needs another person commenting on this cluster fuck of human error, but I don’t think one more could hurt. Mostly because it’s not going to be all about how the mother should have her children taken away, that’s absurd. It’s mostly my confusion over the public’s reaction to the event itself, and the notion that the Cincinnati Zoo should be held more responsible than the parents.

We all seem to agree this ordinary mother of four received an overwhelming but not unusual amount of criticism from the Internet over allowing her four year old son to wander out of her sight long enough to drop 15 feet into Harambe’s enclosure. I sincerely hope she finds some way to disconnect, and doesn’t go about reading each and every one of them. I also wouldn’t put it past the media to try and lure this family out into the open and drag this thing out further. In their eyes everybody’s ordinary until they’re paid not to be.

Rest easy though, parents! While there may be some criticism in this article towards the mother, no one is talking about you, your wife, your mom or grandmother. This is about one individual. That’s it. Just one. Not all of you. No need for the call to arms and all the “As a…” based arguments that are supposed to give weight to a topic by giving yourself a title, because let me just say, as a comedian, I don’t care about your title.

What I don’t quite understand are the people saying she shouldn’t be criticized at all. That no flack whatsoever should be thrown her way because, “Parenting is hard.” I don’t think criticizing her in any way is saying parenting is easy and anyone can do it. I think people have stated very clearly, this particular woman, could stand to do it better going forward. Also, be proud if you’re a better parent! It’s ok to be better at things than other people are. You don’t have to feel bad because you don’t know what the future holds and one day your kid might wander off in a mall and stumble into the back of a Cinnabon. No one’s going to criticize you for that. In fact, congratulate yourself, your kid’s got great taste in food!

My main problem is the mass amount of people blaming the Cincinnati Zoo for this particular incident when there is so much more you can and should blame zoos for. For better or worse they do exist and somewhere along the way we all agreed that when we visit a zoo, a place where wild animals with broken spirits are kept behind plexiglass walls and made to look out on a world they can never enjoy, we need to take extra caution. The same way you would at a Theme Park, a Fair, Carnival, Circus, Sports Arena, or any other widely attended event where children you’re responsible for are allowed. One of the arguments I keep hearing is that the zoo welcomes children! It’s not like we can go around child proofing the world. And where exactly are children not welcome? Don’t get me wrong I like kids, but they’re everywhere! Is there any place aside from a strip club or a bar adults can go where a child isn’t present? Some are also saying there were other people around too, and they didn’t see the child entering the enclosure either. Look, I understand it takes a village, but you know what? Sometimes the other villagers are busy.

Now, before we hire Trump to build a wall around all gorilla enclosures, Jeff Corwin was quoted in an interview saying,

“…I don’t think this happened in seconds or minutes. I think this took time for this kid, this little boy to find himself in that situation. Ultimately it’s the gorilla that’s paid the price.”

People took issue with his statement, questioning his knowledge of enclosures and oddly enough time. Yes, Corwin is a conservationist. He’s been one for 31 years, as well as a biologist, an advanced field medical specialist, and more importantly has worked in several zoos and aquariums throughout his career. Does he build these structures? No. But as a conservationist his main focus is making sure the habitats are free from diseases, harmful insects, fires, people, etc. That’s where I base his expertise on the time it took for this kid to get into the enclosure.

The parents of the little boy have already said they would not file a lawsuit against the zoo. The people calling for them to sue are just as irrational as the people calling to have this woman’s children taken from her. From what I gathered by reading about Harambe’s enclosure is that it meets the requirement for that type of habitat, which has been the industry standard for the past 40 years without incident. The other standard being the ones where the gorillas are kept behind a plexiglass wall. In my mind that’s really the end of it. If you’re knowingly entering an area with your kid and there’s a 15 foot drop of any kind whether it’s got a fence in front of it or not it’s usually a red flag to keep your child close.

But let’s say there was no fence at all. Just a 15 foot drop and people and their children were allowed in. If she let’s her kid out of her sight and he dives into the enclosure whose fault is it? Hers or the the zoos? The Wild Safari park at Six Flags in NJ let’s people drive around on a path while wild animals roam free around your car. All they ask is that you don’t roll the window down, and you keep your doors locked. If you forget to lock your door and your kid runs out to ride an ostrich is it your fault for forgetting to lock the door or is it the theme park’s fault for having the audacity to exist? The Grand Canyon is a national park where people bring their families. There’s no fencing on the edges of the canyon. Only a sign that looks like this:

What on earth keeps children from running off those cliffs like lemmings? Probably the extended arm and open hand of an attentive parent. That being said, accidents do happen. I really hope the zoo puts up signs at each exhibit now depicting a way their child could wind up in danger so parents are kept on full alert. You know, maybe a silhouette of a tiger with it’s mouth around someone’s neck, something subtle.

I completely understand that on some level anyone with kids identifies with her. It’s a frightening position to even imagine yourself in when you don’t have kids. What I have learned from all this is that the margin of error people will accept for parents is extremely broad. For example people seem to have no tolerance for parents whose daughters become strippers. Like, ZERO. There’s even less respect for parent’s of child celebrities. God forbid a 19 year old pop-star is caught in the public’s eye behaving like a teenager! America has no problem jumping down parents throats asking where they are and questioning how they were raised when someone like Ariana Grande gets caught goofing around in a donut shop. But let your kid wander off in a zoo over a gorilla enclosure with a 15 foot drop after he repeatedly tells you he’s going to go swim with the gorilla? Mother-of-the-fucking-year right there folks.

It’s a weird pattern I’ve noticed in this post Internet world we live in. On one hand I guess it’s cool that people aren’t willing to pass individual blame anymore but at the same time it seems dangerously selective, and extremely tribal. If a Cop does something horribly wrong, and people demand justice, the Cop’s actions are no longer his own but the entirety of the force and hoo-boy do they take personal issue with it. Same thing with lawyers, doctors, and apparently parents. I don’t quite know what to make of it. Even in my own little comedy community you can see it to an extent. The only difference is we don’t carry the same weight as other professions. We’ll usually band together when one of us is attacked for an offensive but albeit funny, well crafted joke, but when one of us is charged with a serious crime they’re pretty much ostracized from the community. When it was no longer speculation that Cosby was slipping women drugs and raping them while unconscious, none of us were like, “Look guys…the road is SO lonely and dating when you’re a comic is SUPER hard, plus marriage is really boring, look, you just…you just don’t understand what it’s like to be US, ok?”

If I can though, I’d like to give a quick shout out to the four year old boy who wound up in the enclosure. The kid’s a champ. A 15 foot fall and dragged through the water and not one tear. Not one cry for help. None of it seemed to phase him. He can even be seen holding Harambe’s hand in the end.

Animal behaviorists like Jane Goodall, Gisela Kaplan, and Jerry Stones (the zookeeper who raised him) all agreed his behavior was non-threatening. In 1986 Levan Merritt had fallen into a gorilla enclosure, breaking his arm and fracturing his skull in a NJ zoo. Jambo, a silverback gorilla watched over him until zookeepers came to remove the boy. PETA cited another case where a child had fallen into a gorilla enclosure and excessive force was not used.

“Gorillas are self-aware. They love, laugh, sing, play, and grieve. Western lowland gorillas are gentle animals. They don’t attack unless they’re provoked. Who can forget gorilla Binti Jua, who gently picked up an unconscious boy who had fallen into her enclosure and cradled him in her arms before carefully handing him over to Brookfield Zoo keepers?”

Overall, I don’t feel the zoo should be sued or held to a higher standard than the parents. It does however reinforce my belief that zoos are not really equipped to manage such magnificent creatures. As for the public’s reaction and bizarre defense of the mother, I guess I can understand without any knowledge of how a gorilla is supposed to behave, and seeing a child dragged through the water would have you thinking the absolute worst. Honestly who can bare to see a child in pain let alone having it on tape for the world to view repeatedly. It’s definitely something American parents wouldn’t tolerate or post montages of on YouTube with over eight million views.