The latest incident at the Cincinnati Zoo should remind all of us just how unnatural and dangerous these facilities can be for both human and non-human animals alike.
In this case, a 3 year old boy rushed out of his mother’s arms and fell into a gorilla’s open air cage. Harambe, a beloved gorilla at the zoo, was shot to death out of concern for the boy. According to zoo officials, the incident was the first in the exhibit’s 38-year history.
But even if it takes another 38 years for this type of incident to happen again, it would not have happened in the first place if a wild creature was not confined in an artificial environment. I will even go so far as to say that it was not the sharpshooter’s bullet that killed Harambe; it was the fact that he was confronted by human onlookers in a confined pen. That is what ultimately sealed his fate.
Jane Goodall put it best when she wrote, “The voice of the natural world would be, ‘Could you please give us space and leave us alone with our own lives and our own ways, because we actually know much better how to do it than when you start interfering.’
At the very least, it is deducible that so many of the vestiges of normalcy and security which gorillas have relied on for millions of years are stripped away in the captivity experience. When dependent on natural defense systems such as the rain forest and jungle, gorillas not only have the freedom to be gorillas, they also have the ability to seek out every environmental advantage at their disposal. Zoos not only deprive them of their inalienable right to exist in a liberated state, they also deprive them of their pursuit of well being and happiness. “A zoo is a prison” wrote Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer.
That being said, in every way except the safe return of the boy to his terrified family, this event was tragic. The fact that scientists can not resist examining gorillas outside of their natural habitat is tragic; that people pay to watch a caged animal yearn for wilderness is tragic; and that a 3 year old would stumble into the powerful grip of a confused beast is tragic also. Certainly the death of Harambe is a tragedy: just as I believe the killing of nameless gorillas all over the world is tragic.