Ohio’s Cincinnati Zoo has unwillingly entered the public spotlight after a four year old boy fell into the gorilla enclosure last Sunday.
The incident, which resulted in the shooting of the zoo’s 17-year old gorilla – Harambe – was tragic to say the least. However, even more tragic has been the public’s response to abuse and attack the parents of the four-year old child on social media.
First there were the memes that went viral, shared and liked by some hundreds of thousands of users. Plastered onto an enlarged photo of Harambe, the words “Not sure why they killed me, I was doing a better job of looking after that lady’s kid than she was” reads one meme. “I was killed because a b*tch wasn’t watching her child” reads another.
The main arguments fuelling the vilification of the boy’s parents are reflected in these two memes:
- The gorilla was protecting the child rather than posing any serious danger
- The gorilla was killed due to the inability of the parents to properly look after their own son
It is true that Harambe appeared to display affection akin to that of a mother through the tender and gentle way he handled the boy in portions of the video. However, other parts of the video (that were often filtered from the media coverage) left viewers’ in genuine concern and panic at seeing the boy being dragged through the enclosure like a rag doll. An Australian animal expert came out and solidified this theory by stating that the Silverback gorilla species are not aggressive creatures and that the gorilla was most likely protecting the young child from the pandemonium ignited by the onlooking crowd.
If the video proved anything at all it was the erratic nature of the whole situation. Yes the gorilla showed nonthreatening behaviour, but it also showed aggression too. But the fact of the matter is that it was an unpredictable situation where the safety of the young child was something the zoo authorities were not willing to gamble on. And rightly so.
Second, is the bashing of the parents competence to look after their son. The public is so outraged at the so-called negligence of the parents that a change.org petition. has even been created. In what has probably been the most ridiculous petition ever to have circulated, the supporters argue that the carelessness of the parents have made them the sole cause of Harambe’s fate. And just when you think the petition couldn’t cross the line any further, readers come across:
“We believe that this negligence may be reflective of the child’s home situation. We the undersigned actively encourage an investigation of the child’s home environment in the interests of protecting the child and his siblings from further incidents of parental negligence that may result in serious bodily harm or even death.”
More than the futility of this Justice for Harambe petition, what has baffled me is the whopping 415,579 signatures it has gathered to date. That’s 415,579 who are adamant that the parents must be punished and that’s 415, 579 who have clearly never spent more than a few seconds with a child.
Children are mischievous. Children are stubborn. And children certainly don’t understand what is good and harmful to them. If that young boy really wanted to get into the gorilla enclosure, what could make anyone think that the forbiddance of his parents could ever quench that desire? The point is that this four year old tried – and succeeded! Does the fact that a child managed to get into an animal enclosure not raise huge security and safety concerns? I know many parents who would have been quick on their feet to demand compensation from the zoo to alleviate the mental and physical damage endured to their family. Instead, this family showed gratitude for the actions taken by the authorities to prevent their child from further harm (which also received backlash).
Do we attribute a parent losing their child in a busy shopping centre on their lack of parenting skills? Do we blame the parents of children who are kidnapped, with the “you should have looked after your child more attentively” attack? Or do we understand that tragedy can strike during the split seconds we become preoccupied and offer them sympathy for the unimaginable circumstances they have found themselves in? But somehow it’s a whole different ballgame for these parents who could have prevented this incident had they – as thousands out there believe – “kept a closer watch on their child.”
Unfortunate circumstances arise from our mistakes more often than we would like to. Right now, the parents are probably in a deep pool of self-loathing which has been well and truly been exacerbated by the public’s reaction. In a time where society has chosen to crucify the innocent, my thoughts are with the traumatised little boy, his vulnerable parents and the authoritarian who was forced to shoot down one of his beloved animals. I cannot imagine being made to feel like the perpetrator of a tragic occurrence that was out of my control.
Yes, the Silverback gorilla is an already endangered species that should be preserved. Yes, the gorilla was killed due to no fault of his own. And yes, Harambe did appear to protect the child in parts of the video. Yet none of these reasons could ever have been good enough to risk the life of this four-year old boy. And I hope those who vigorously support the attacking of these parents will soon find it within their conscience to divert this anger to empathy instead. What if it was your child?