A different kind of remembrance for Harambe

By on May 31, 2016 with 120 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

No matter whom you judge culpable, if anyone, we are all grieving over the violent death of Harambe – shot in his enclosure by Cincinnati Zoo officials who took the endangered male gorilla’s life for fear that the 420-pound great ape would hurt a 40-pound boy who slipped past his mother and made a beeline into the animal’s enclosure.

The moral debate over how to handle this situation reminds me of the many dining-hall discussion scenarios I heard thrown my way three decades ago when I started an animal advocacy group in college. Would you kill a grizzly bear if he was posing a threat to you? If you could flip a switch and redirect a hurtling runaway train to kill one person or five animals, which would you choose? If you were in a lifeboat, and there was room for a drowning person only if you threw your dog overboard, would you?

So seldom do these “lifeboat” scenarios play out in real time – such questions are partly curiosity, partly an attempt to undermine the idea of thinking about our responsibilities to animals at all, and partly an attempt to reinforce the moral priority we place on humans. But some traditional users of animals, especially biomedical researchers, appropriated and adapted these scenarios to fit their professional designs – asserting that they choose to use rats or dogs or monkeys for research if a cure for cancer or heart disease could be found — even though they could hardly guarantee such an outcome. Generally speaking, we’re still searching for those cures decades later, and with hundreds of millions of animals killed despite some gains made as a consequence.

In past situations where children have fallen into gorilla exhibits, these immensely powerful animals chose to be the rescuers of the children. In fact, like Harambe, their instinct seemed to be a protective one. If I had been in charge at Cincinnati, I hope I would have ordered the darting of the animal first, with a back-up shooter available if the crisis escalated. But I wasn’t there, and it’s hard to second-guess people dealing with a crisis like that in real time. Their hearts must be very heavy in Cincinnati today.

I do think it’s important to note that for the vast majority of human killings of animals, there’s no such moral dilemma. No gorilla v. boy. No cow v. girl. No elephant v. man.

Instead, there’s still the mass killing of animals for sport or entertainment or fur fashion or for palate preference.

When the Trump boys go to Africa to kill an elephant or a leopard, they go out of their way to do so (spending tens of thousands of dollars to travel 7,000 miles for their little killing sprees and taking the lives of rare animals minding their business in their native habitats with their families).

When people wear fur, they consign perhaps two dozen bobcats to die a miserable death, even though they could buy synthetic or natural fiber coats and do just fine without the real thing.

When a company chooses to test cosmetics on animals, it does so with the knowledge that hundreds of other companies market their products safely without resorting to intentional poisoning of animals or dripping an undiluted compound into their eyes.

So, yes, let’s grieve for Harambe.  Let’s recognize though that zoo officials took this action with extreme regret, and in crisis mode. And let’s all examine, as individuals and as a society, whether it’s okay to kill animals for utterly gratuitous purposes and with the knowledge that there are functionally equivalent or superior options available to us. The scenarios we confront every day of our lives are not lifeboat or runaway train scenarios. They involve clear moral choices and common sense and common decency.

A broader reexamination of our relationship with animals may be the best remembrance we can offer poor Harambe.

Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Sally Palmer says:

    Thank you for giving us a wider perspective on Harambe’s death and what it ultimately symbolizes–the taking of animal lives in so many horrific ways for just human pleasure and greed.

    • Allen says:

      I think you may have slightly missed the premise of the author’s opinion. Harambe’s death, while extremely tragic, is the antithetical scenario of many animal killings, and it should not symbolize the taking of animal lives for human pleasure and greed.

      While the war cries are growing over the ethically challenging decision the zoo decided to make, the vast majority of the outcrying populous continues to remain silent over everyday abominable and senseless mass killings of animals, both rare and common.

      This distinction matters because there exists a moral hierarchy of killing animals, and as long as the public continues to focus on the perhaps necessary tragedy before them, they are distracted from the aforementioned senseless and wholly preventable killings that go unnoticed everyday.

    • Judy says:

      The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.

      • Judy says:

        This is a quote by Gandhi.

        • Laura says:

          Judy, that is the best quote, my favorite. I don’t know the entire quote or exact wording but it says that just because you don’t see the harm and hurt doesn’t mean it is not present.

        • David says:

          One notable exception to this was Nazi Germany. Pro animal rights members of the Nazi party included Himmler, Goebbels, Göring and Hitler. Their treatment of human beings is another matter altogether.

      • Sarah Razee says:

        Written Truth. Never has there been a statement more true than the quote in which you just shared. Thank you so much for sharing those words.. My hope is for as many people as possible to read that quote, allow it to resonate & share those words with people they know. Then the people they know to do the same &s o on & so on & so on. Until finally all people have gotten the”Memo” so to speak and start making the much needed changes to help animals, all animals big&small, far&wide, special attention to the animals we as humans have almost killed off, try to reverse some out that damage, allow them to grow&thrive in their normal surroundings. Stop encroaching into their lands, their oceans, their worlds, let them be, let them live, happy & free, just as they should be..I know that looks like the impossible but i can dream big, hope 4 any change no matter how big or how small, let’s just get this moving in the right direction.. The animals of the earth need people who care about then to fight for them&fight to protect their lives from being stolen and destroyed by all the people who seem to careless.. It’s a sad dilemma but i have hopes something will snap the masses back to reality and get us going in the right direction to hopefully make a difference… Crossing my fingers.. Thanks 4 the amazing article. We all need a reminder of the true depth of the situation in its totality..

    • John Craney says:

      Nothing was tried to save the life of the gorilla, but a bullet!! No food enticement. No distraction of any kind was offered to the gorilla to rescue the brat.
      The breeder never should of had a kid! If a 4 yr. old can control you, then don’t have one.
      The chance should of been taken to tranquilize. A gorilla is worth far more than the brat….

      • Anna says:

        I know some people may not agree, but I totally agree with everything you said!!!! If the “mother” (I use the term loosely) can’t control her child she shouldn’t take it anywhere!!

      • Sarah Razee says:

        I too agree with everything you mentioned in your comment.. Directness and to the point even if brash is the only way to be. I appreciate truthfulness and your words are true.. Thank you for sharing its refreshing to see someone have the courage to be blunt and real. I’m guilty of toing the lunge to much, being to worried of hippie my words will affect other ppl when in actuality sometimes things just need to be serious how it is without holding bank in the slightest. Maybe that alone Will give it the attention it so very much deserves. This murder shouldn’t of happened. That gorilla was protecting that boy he didn’t seem to be in any harm. I’m sure they could of very well darted him knocked him out and that would of saved both the kids life and most IMPORTANTLY the gorillas life. Why should the gorilla get his life taken because of the ignorance of a child who obviously was not supervised properly.. Again a perfect example of ignorant ppl causing & inflicting harm& worse death to an innocent animal who was at no way to blame 4 this totally preventable act done by INCREDIABLY irresponsible people.. Period.

        • Sarah Razee says:

          Sorry 4 word word errors. My auto correct has this bad habit of altering or changing my words entirely and I never proof read as i should.. Frustrating.
          I did notice one mistake as followes,
          I meant to say
          “I’m guilty of TOING THE LINE….”
          Auto correct changed it to toing the lunge or something close to that.. Lol sorry

  2. John Bachman says:

    Not that it will bring poor Harambe back or in any way hold ccountable those who failed to protect him from being put in the situation where Men felt justified even required to kill him, but The entire situation should be investigated by an inpartial organization. The zoo director said as they all do when something goes wrong at any organization holding animals, “We wer in compliance with all AZA and USDA standards” When can we end the practice of letting AZA police itself and the USDA act as a .partner. Please Wayne, can’t you try to put more teeth in the AWA and make all those who imprison animals for whatever reason be held to the highest standards and held accountable when they screw up. You know that a major part of the decision to kill Harambe was the legal ramifications if the kid had been seriously injured or killed. There, unfortunatly, are no legal problems with killing a non-human ape.

    • Melinda Miller says:

      I could not have given a better opinion myself.
      The poor thing could have been saved by using a tranquilizer instead of a gunshot.

    • Lynn says:

      I understand what you are saying about zoo safety measures but the zoo went 34 years with no problem. Has our species gone backwards in 34 years where now our children don’t mind us? I can remember when I was a kid. If we did not listen to our parents there were consequences to pay…in observing parents today I dont see that anymore…why is our species going backwards in teaching our children?

      • Mary Jo Wingard says:

        Lynn, I agree with you completely! I would NEVER have told my Mom I was going to do something after she already told me I couldn’t. I would have gotten the back of her hand across my mouth. Now days that’s considered child abuse. Hmm,you think there might be a connection here?

    • Lisa Algee says:

      There appear to have been a series of errors (actions not taken) which I think led to the killing of Harambe, one of the world’s most critically endangered species (Western lowland gorilla). To begin with, how could a child fall into the exhibit in the first place? Obviously, if they had secured the infrastructure, this would not have happened. Second, why wasn’t the public immediately cleared from the exhibit once the child fell in? As I watch the video from Kim O’Connor (eyewitness), I can hear people screaming. This could have frightened the gorilla and perhaps he was trying to protect the child from people hanging over the exhibit’s edge. Again, if zoo officials had cleared the public away, the screaming would have abated, and the gorilla would have most likely not become frightened or agitated. Why wasn’t this done? Third, I’m sure zoo officials are aware that this has happened before? A child fell into a gorilla exhibit and the gorilla did not harm the child. The zoo officials successfully retrieved the child without killing the gorilla. According to Kim O’Connor, Harambe, “appeared to be more of a gentle giant — protecting the child before the animal was shot dead.” Fourth, what’s the zoo’s established procedure/protocol for handling a situation like this? What happened Saturday, May 28th does not appear to be based on any anticipatory, logical, mindful thinking. Thane Maynard (Director of Zoo) says that Harambe wasn’t tranquilized because the effects would have taken a while due to his size? Well, not if you adjust the dosage to the weight of the animal which you surely have on record. Maynard can’t justify the mistake he made. Now, they have a bigger problem on their hands. How do they expect the remaining gorillas to trust them after killing one of their members? I’m sure zookeepers are aware of the strong social bonds gorillas have with each other. Did he have a mate? Did he have offspring? How will they ever gain the trust of the gorillas again? What kind of services are they providing for the remaining gorillas? They may be traumatized by this devastating incident.

      • Diane Shain says:

        Very well said Lisa. I thought of all points you brought up. Harambe didn’t need to die. The screaming was very disturbing and Harambe wasn’t used to people screaming at him. And he was in a position he’d never beenn in before, but through it all he was PROTECTING that child the way gorillas know to do it. Hell the damn fall was probably more damaging that been dragged through the water.And the remaining gorillas are without their leader their protector, maybe a mate or a father. The whole situation was a shame. Everybody was at blame and poor Harambe paid the price.

      • Laura says:

        I also disagree with the zoo saying a tranquilizer would have taken to long to work. Have they seen the rangers tranquilize a rhino? With the correct dose..the rhino goes down pretty fast. That gorilla was not out to kill that child. We had this habit when our kids were young, it was called “Hold my hand, or we don’t move.” If I had more than one child and one in the stroller, hands on the stroller. It takes less time than this incident took for someone to snatch that child, then we would be looking at milk cartoons.

      • Linda Kennedy says:

        All of that being said and understood, the zoo could have, and should have, administered a tranquilizer immediately in the hopes it would take effect in enough time before police arrived with their guns. The animal might not have needed to be shot down as he was. It seems the zoo had absolutely no plan of action other than to wring their hands and turn it over to those who ONLY know how to use lethal force.

    • David Bernazani says:

      After the incident of a previous boy falling into the gorilla pit at the Brookfield Zoo in 1996 (where he was rescued by Binti, one of the gorillas), the AZA should have established heightened security barrier regulations for all zoos to follow, or else lose their accreditation.
      Did the do that? No. Why? It would have cost some zoos money. And now a priceless, critically endangered gorilla is dead, because the AZA lacked the will and the common sense to make any changes.

      • Sharon says:

        Well said. My first thought on hearing about this tragedy was how was it possible for the child to access the enclosure.

    • Charles Trundle says:

      Very well stated. I agree. Have seen brief video of Harambe and the boy, and the outcome is tragic. I hope the boy will be in good health. Wish more authorities on animals would weigh in with their opinions.

  3. Rebecca Donohue says:

    Thank you for your commentary on the broader issue. Perhaps a fund could be started in Harambe’s honor to continue increasing the public’s awareness to question what should be the norm on how we use animals and Great apes in particular such as him.

    • L. says:

      All the while, we have homeless people and unwanted children in facilities all over the United States. So yes, by all means, let’s all contribute to a fund to raise awareness for a situation that NONE of us have all the facts.

      • Laura says:

        Then start one. THIS article has to do a COMPLETELY different topic, not homeless people. I see NOTHING stopping you from doing what you mentioned, so go for it.

      • Lisa says:

        How is one thing the same as the other?! Not even a comparison to make!

      • Alice Rutkowski says:

        The way we treat animals is evidence of our heart and the ability to empathize with others. In 2016 this is paramount or we will kill ourselves and each other.

      • Blaine B. says:

        Why must you go there? Who says anyone is taking money away from homeless organizations or children’s charities? If someone wants to donate their money to a cause like this, then that is his/her decision and none of yours. Please don’t judge someone who’s trying to help make the world a better place for everyone, including the animals whom humans have turned into our entertainment. If you don’t want to donate, then don’t. But don’t chastise someone else because their heart is tugged in a different direction from yours.

      • Lori says:

        Homeless people and unwanted children do not overwrite the cruelty we show toward animals. They are not dependent on each other and neither one is more important than the other. If people were more congnicent of how they treat animals then they would treat people better. It is a known fact that animal abusers end up being people abusers. Caring and compassion is not distinguished by what the being is. It encompasses all living creatures. People are homeless and children are unwanted because somewhere the caring and nurturing teaching was missed. If we taught our children to care about all living creatures then there would be more love and caring in the world. For everyone including animals.

      • lpc says:

        Bottom line……there will ALWAYS be many, many things worse than any particular issues at hand. However, that does not and should not lesson the effects of a current situation. Unfortunately, “human beings” for some reason LOVE to cast judgment on every topic. So many accidents happen, even at the fault of a person, but NO ONE can know what those individuals were going through, but THOSE individuals. This incident is a tragedy for all. Yes, ultimate responsibility lies with a parent to make sure of the safety of their child. The zoo officials only have a moment really to make a life and death decision. No one is free from guilt/blame in a situation like this. One of the biggest problems with people is their gut reaction to cast judgment on another person or situation. We as a human race have clearly lost all of our compassion!!!! Don’t judge something you have no personal knowledge of! I am an animal lover and feel terribly that this beautiful creature of God was lost, but I am intelligent enough to know that I was not there and involved and therefore cannot cast judgment on anyone. This does not mean that the current situation regarding, in my opinion, the protection of animals in captivity (mind you, they did not ask to be there…we put them there) should be reevaluated. Ensuring everyone’s safety should be number one.

        • John Craney says:

          Your so called “life & death situation” should’ve been figured out wayyyy before the event!

      • jay says:

        hey let’s change the subject to a different thing!

    • L. says:

      Also, before anyone replies with any ‘animal activist’ comments, I am in no way defending, agreeing, or even sharing my opinion of the events that took place at the Cincinnati Zoo. I am as much an animal lover as anyone, but to suggest that money be donated to continue the outraged debates over something none of us witnessed, or have any control over, is senseless.

      • Blaine B. says:

        “I am in no way defending, agreeing, or even sharing my opinion of the events that took place at the Cincinnati Zoo.” — no, you’re simply judging the goodness in someone else’s heart and declaring it lacking. Please don’t. As for not having “any control over the situation” I think that was the point in wanting to donate, so that people will have a voice in future animal-human interactions.

    • Alicia Ortego says:

      That’s a positive idea

  4. Barbara G. says:

    My personal opinion I blame the parents or whoever was responsible for the kid for not watching the it closer. How did the kid manage to fall into the water anyway that’s something I would like to know and a lot of other people. Was there a hole in the fence around the top of the enclosure. No one will ever know. I didn’t think at first that the gorilla would hurt the kid either until he grabbed it buy the foot and dragged it through the water that was a show of aggression. Just because another male gorilla didn’t hurt a kid in its pen didn’t mean this one wouldn’t. I didn’t want to see the gorilla hurt either there are so few left in the wild but sometimes its taken out of any ones hands.

    • Robynne Catheron says:

      I think your judgment of the parents is shameful and ignorant. It’s evident that you didn’t take the time to know all the facts. You said “no one will ever know,” but there are written eyewitness accounts posted all over the internet stating the parents did nothing wrong. It took precisely one second for that boy to slip away, and that fence is only four feet high and easily climbed by a curious child. That boy’s mother will endure her self-imposed guilt for the death of that animal the rest of her life. Who are you to pass judgment, anyway?
      It’s also evident that you have never raised a child, or else you consider yourself the perfect parent. It must be nice to be so much better than the rest of us.

      • Virginia says:

        Doubt very much if the mother is going to worry about the death of that gorilla.

      • Robin says:

        Ok so you say the parents did nothing wrong but in the same sentence you say it took only a moment for the boy to slip away and the fence is only four feet high and easily climbed by a child. Where were the parents when he was climbing?

      • Tina says:

        I am a parent and in ANY POTENTIAL dangerous situation my husband I NEVER let go of our children’s hands. The zoo, Niagra Falls you don’t let your child’s hand go knowing how curious they are. SHAME and guilt is what this neglectful lucky mom should be feeling because of her stupidity.

      • Susan Ott says:

        Any responsible parent taking a child into an environment filled with dangerous animals should know they have to be especially vigilant in overseeing their child at all times. And as for the mother’s guilt at the animals death for all you know she hadn’t given it a second thought. And just in case you question my credentials I brought up five brothers and sisters, my own son and several of my nieces and nephews. I don’t claim to be perfect but I know to have control of a child at all times.

      • R. says:

        It didn’t take “precisely one second” for that child to slip away. Think about it this way – how many kids do you think have visited that enclosure over the years? A LOT. Yet this is the first time a child has gotten inside. What’s the difference? Those other children were being watched carefully. You can’t tell me this one child just “had too much curiosity and quickly slipped in” because that makes no sense – if it were that easy, it would have happened a long time ago. This poor kid is going to have this traumatic memory for the rest of his life. The parents are of course at fault here. I would feel like it was my fault if I was the mother or father because I didn’t have a handle on my kids and took them to a zoo fully knowing that. But what’s done is done and suing these people or going after them for the death of Harambe isn’t really going to solve anything – it might just ruin that kid’s life even more.

      • Felicia says:

        I think YOUR judgment of Barbara is shameful and ignorant. Let’s just keep letting neglectful parents get away with being neglectful so we can continue raising a generation of kids who know no boundaries and who fear no consequences.

        That boy’s mother SHOULD endure self-imposed guilt for the rest of her life but I seriously doubt she will. Once this blows over, as it inevitably does, she’ll go on with her life, as we all will, and nothing will have been gained.

        Your post reeks of condescension and I think you’re in the wrong forum to be posting about how the mother was blameless.

      • Elizabeth Bird says:

        “…and that fence is only four feet high and easily climbed by a curious child.”

        And therein lies the main problem. Zoo Assoc. gives Cinncy Zoo an okay in spite of safety issue.
        Secondly, the parent plays no part in her child’s safety??!!??

    • Russell Harris says:

      As it turned out, it was either the little boys life or the ape, so they choose to shoot the ape.Besides whats more important, the apes or the childs life.

  5. Karen Dawn says:

    Thank you for this extraordinarily thoughtful wider view of the issue.

  6. Valerie Retter says:

    Thank you, once again, Wayne, for your clarity of thought & unending push for the right direction with regard to the treatment of animals. The unbearable horror of this event is somewhat tempered by your eloquence & focus. You never fail the animals or the HSUS.

  7. Linda says:

    This was a heartbreaking incident. And yes, someone needs to be held accountable for the death of this beautiful animal. Was it the parents of the boy who got through the enclosures? Was it the zoo itself for not having the appropriate safeguards in place? Although everyone wants to blame the parents, who are partially responsible. Most of the blame falls directly on the zoo. They are responsible for the safeguard of their guests along with the protecting the animals they have on exhibit. If a 4yr old can manage to get into an exhibit, then the zoo personnel failed their job and it cost an endangered animal his life. It needs to cost someone their job at the Cincinnati Zoo.

    • mary stephenson says:

      well said thank you.

    • Amy says:

      I agree. Both parties are at fault. I hope all zoos learn from this and make any necessary changes, so that this doesn’t happen again, anywhere. This is not the first time someone has fallen into an exhibit. I hope this incident was the wakeup call.

    • Suzanne Meyers says:

      I agree…..it’s both parties fault here…but the blame ultimately should be on the zoo for not having a fence high enough. It’s horrible that this happened. And also to the ones saying the gorilla wasn’t going to harm the child is pure rediculous. How could anyone say this? This was a 450 pound wild animal and dragging the boy through that water the way he did was just horrifying. No one here could claim what so ever what was in that gorilla’s mind. My first thought was how in the world did that little boy even survive that horrific fall and then why couldn’t the animal be tranquilized? The zoo should have been prepared for any mishap that could happen. The animal handlers working at the zoo should have been ready to take the appropriate action and trained properly. I would like to know why they thought the animal might possibly take too long to go down once tranquilized when they can tranquilize huge african animals like tigers, elephants??? Now what if that gorilla did kill the little boy? Who is the blame for that?

  8. Mary says:

    The killing of Harambe is tragic and while we weren’t there to witness what actually happened, it’s fairly safe to say that the child should have been watched more carefully as it has been stated by eye witnesses that the 4 year old was telling his mother he “wanted to go into the water” more than once.
    I think the bigger portion of blame for this tragedy lies with the zoo and the construction of the ape enclosure. I have never been to the Cincinnati zoo but the majority of zoos are basic in structure. The zoos I am familiar with all have not one, but two barriers to keep people (children & idiotic adults) out. How is it that this structure was so easy for a 4 year old to get through? It’s a shame that, after the fact, the zoo will now beef up their protocols. It seems to me that those deemed professional enough to be in charge of not only the safety of the animals residing in their zoos but the visitors who make the trip to the zoo, should be capable of evaluating the safety of their enclosures and equipment. Rest in peace Harambe…you did nothing wrong except be on display through no wish of your own.

    • lory says:

      it appears that this zoo had multiple violations before this incident..including one of the zoo keepers losing an arm.

      in my view zoos and aquariums should not exist.. the animals are imprisoned for life in some man-made enclosures for what exactly?… to have ppl gawk at them because they cant afford a safari trip! some say its educational ..i think its purely entertainment.

  9. An Animal Lover AND Realist says:

    The Cincinnati Zoo officials did not choose to dart Harambe with a tranquilizer due to his massive size and strength for a gorilla — approximately the strength of 10 adult humans. The tranquilizer, if in fact it DID work, would have taken a few minutes to kick in, and by that time, the child would have been dead, based on the actions the animal had already shown. A “backup shooter” would have been useless because by the time they would realize they needed another dart, the entire situation would have concluded, again, with a dead child.

    Beyond that, even the zookeepers do not place themselves IN the gorilla enclosure. They always have a welded mesh barrier between the keepers and the animals. Gorillas are considered to be very dangerous

    If you have children, you’d also know that, no matter how watchful you are, they can be EXTREMELY fast and disappear in a mere second. What we need to examine is how we build these zoo enclosures. The trend is to make the enclosure appear as close to the natural habitat as possible, without any barriers to “get in the way.” A 15-foot drop into the enclosure isn’t going to keep out anyone who falls in or tries to “drop” in — whether on purpose or by accident — we need actual barriers that will PREVENT situations such as this from happening.

    I’m pretty sure most animal-lovers would want the same action zoo staff took if it were THEIR kid being tossed around by a 400-lb gorilla in a display to intimidate any human or animal around because it felt threatened.

    • Karen says:

      or simply leave the animals in their natural habitats and visit them there not in artificial cages, pens and glass or concrete enclosures in man-made prisons, aka zoos

    • Tina says:

      EXCUSES! Parents are responsible for their children. In no way have I ever as a mother left my children’s safety up to any establishment. This mother is full of excuses and not sorry for what happened. She needs to own up!!!!!!! Whats next she is going to press charges for her stress?

    • Wayne says:

      Well said!

    • Neila Wood says:

      For your information he( the kid) was not being thrown around–watch the gorilla pick the child up and touch his hand if he wanted to kill this kid he could’ve done it when the kid fell in–the idiots standing around the enclosure screaming were what was making this whole thing a mess–and the damn zoo was in too big a hurry to kill the gorilla–the parents and the zoo should be held very accountable for this–Period!

      • jill fullerton says:

        The child had his head hit against the concrete a few times,, He had a concussion,, The Gorilla was not protecting him!!

      • pat says:

        The gorilla looked like he thought the child was something to maybe play with. He stood the child up and sat and looked at him. The stupid crowd and especially the ignorant mother who was screaming to the child to “stay calm” needed to do the same. The child was not heard even crying! This child had been heard arguing with his mother back and forth about the child’s threat of “going in”. This brat apparently was never taught to obey his parent. Kids these days tell the parents what to do. This generation is crumbling and I am very, very, very sad about the zoo’s decision to kill this animal. Tranquilizer should have been used.

    • Judy says:

      We will never know how the gorilla would have reacted. We only know how the humans in control of this situation reacted. A similar incident happened several years ago. Fortunately the humans in control rescued the toddle without injuring the gorilla.

  10. Celeste says:

    The Grand Canyon has the same type of safety rails… Are you going to let go of your kid there too??

    • dana nelson says:

      yes the parents should have been holding the boy’s hand at any public area, a child can even get lost in a second anywhere zoo or not children need to follow rules of parents I am sad about what happen and I would go up to a parent to make thing worse

  11. Enid says:

    Thank you for your perspective. Perhaps the role of zoos needs to be examined

  12. Bren Sawall says:

    I was raised on a farm and love animals. However, a human life should never take a back seat to that of an animals. We have starving, homeless people all over this country, where is the outrage over that?

    • Erika says:

      Plenty of people have heartbreak and outrage regarding the suffering of fellow humans. We are just not talking about it here, because, well, that’s not the topic of this blog.

    • Ramey Zamora says:

      There is plenty of outrage over starving, homeless people, Bren. It is everywhere, like in the campaigns of people like Bernie Sanders, and in the efforts of thousands of unsung heroes who reach out to the homeless community with shelter, food and counseling. I’m sure you’ve received requests for donations to help the homeless, including those Salvation Army bell ringers at Christmas time. Hopefully you have donated generously as you could. Millions of dollars have been thrown at the homeless “problem” and it hasn’t been solved yet. What makes anyone believe that ignoring the plight of imprisoned wild animals on display to make money to continue their imprisonment will throw more light on the starving and the homeless?

    • Ann Early says:

      Different issue altogether. This piece is about our responsibilities towards animals, who are at our mercy and whom we abuse and exploit in unbelievably cruel and horrific ways. This gorilla died because he was held captive, his will to live his natural life taken from him by humans. We must examine these issues.

  13. KK says:

    The problem is that HUMANS, in all their comfort & glory, desire to view a living creature that should never ever be caged in the first place. Even if an animal is endangered (humanity yet again), it’s wrong! Step on over to the other side, think long and hard–this entire scenario wouldn’t have happened if zoos were a thing of the past. Shameful.

    • Bobbi says:

      Really. Maybe the real answer to this is let the animals stay wild and we can watch National Geographic or a documentary.

    • Ramey Zamora says:

      Absolutely spot on!

    • Karen says:


    • neversink says:

      Maybe you should come here to Africa then and fight off the poachers if you think there shouldn’t be zoos and that animals should only be in the wild. I agree, but then you need to put yourself on the front lines of fighting habitat destruction, fighting ruthless poachers, stopping the illegal and unethical market of ivory, rhino horns and other animal parts, and fighting all the other human activities that threatens animals and their habitat around the world.

      If it weren’t for zoos like The Bronx Zoo, that has wildlife programs all around the world, this world would be even worse off for animals. The Bronx Zoo is responsible for all the wild bison that exist in the wild today in the western US.

      Enjoy your ivory tower, but until you get out on the ground and fight the culprits destroying the natural world, your comment that their should be no zoos is absurd. Many of these zoos contribute to healing the damage done by humans and protecting and reintroducing endangered species to what remains of the wild land on this planet.

      Thanks for understanding.

  14. Jan Herzog says:

    To me, the way Harambe died is not even the biggest issue here. It was a horrible, traumatic event, no doubt. But to me, the way Harambe lived was even worse than the way he died. He belonged in Africa. He didn’t belong in a glorified cage. Let’s rethink the whole concept of zoos – let’s phase them out in favor of true sanctuaries such as the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Texas.

    • Janelle Madison says:

      I agree with Jan Herzog. Yes, to be imprisoned (yes, imprisoned) his entire life is a tragic sentence he had to endure. He or any other animal does not belong in a “glorified cage” as Jan stated. I never have enjoyed visiting a zoo, haven’t gone since I was a child. When will people realize how cruel it is?

    • Ramey Zamora says:

      Brava. You have illuminated what I think is the key to all animal violence in human society. Zoos, circuses, rodeos, bullfights, dogfights, cockfights, corredas, sled dog races, dog races, horse races, horse endurance races, wild animal rides, and the list goes on. When humans stop using animals for profit, entertainment, sport and personal gratification, this kind of animal on human violence will all but cease.

  15. Robynne Catheron says:

    Thank you, Wayne, for your profound and compassionate statements. It was a heartbreaking situation. Hopefully, your words will help people understand that no one was at fault; it was an accident. That poor mother will feel immense sadness and heavy guilt for the rest of her life. I pray she can find peace.

  16. Robin Roberto Horgan says:

    We are meant to be stewards of the animals. They are not capable of choice, not able to make their own decisions so we make them on their behalf. In this we are failing miserably.

  17. Delma whitney says:

    FIRST of all, the Mother should have watch her child better
    Not the fault of the go Hambe He was confused at all the noise , poor guy.

  18. mary stephenson says:

    This is just another reason why wild animals should be left in the wild. What a shame.

    • animal lover says:

      You do understand that zoos help raise millions to help endangered species and raise awareness to these species. The zoos do not make them endangered. What makes the species endangered is things that are happening in the wild. Poaching is just one of the many problems that face the endangered species.

  19. Diana Collins says:

    I would like to hear Jane Goodall’s take on this situation. Although I respect Wayne’s opinion. Her opinion working with primates for years is one I would totally respect.

  20. Sharon OSullivan says:

    Something needs to be done to protect animals from disasters like this.
    Zoos should’ve learned from the Brookfield Zoo incident that the outcome wouldn’t always be positive.

  21. Sharon OSullivan says:

    Something needs to be done to protect animals from disasters like this.
    Zoos should’ve learned from the Brookfield Zoo incident, where the child was given over to a handler by the gorilla, that the outcome wouldn’t always be positive.

  22. Mary Lou Gomez says:

    Thank you Wayne for your thoughts on the suffering and killing of animals that continues. I do hope that the killing of Harambe should be the catalyst that will send the rest of his group to a sanctuary. Zoos cannot adequately protect nor conserve this critically endangered species. Were it not for zoos wanting to breed and therefore perpetuate their use for amusement and entertainment, we would not be grieving his death.

  23. David Bernazani says:

    This is not the first time a toddler ha fallen into a zoo habitat for gorillas. The Cincinnati zoo had years to redesign its fences to prevent it from happening again (at another zoo) and did nothing. And now an incredibly rare and precious almost-human animal is dead.

    Rest in peace, Harambe. You were born a prisoner, and you were killed by your captors, although you did nothing wrong. Only in death are you free.

    Harambe was another victim of the American zoo system. When will we finally wake up and realize we have no right to keep other species imprisoned their whole lives for clueless tourists who glance at them for a few minutes?

    The fact that we are willing to kill a critically endangered animal of one species to protect one of another species which is massively overpopulating the planet– this anthrocentric and arrogant view is why we will kill the planet.

  24. Karen says:

    You totally miss the point. Nothing would have happened if the gorilla had not been in captivity. All those things you talked about – you never once question the existence of the zoo, which is the real problem. You didn’t even mention the underlying cruelty of a species that thinks it can capture, cage and bait a wild animal for its own amusement. No, you stuck with politically correct topics like spraying bunnies in the eyes with cosmetics and killing lab rats in the name of cancer cures. And please don’t talk to me about “endangered species.” They didn’t get that way by themselves. The only predator that kills and tortures for pleasure is man.

    • Kirsty says:

      Agreed. The parents were at fault for not controlling their child. The zoo was at fault for not creating the infrastructure necessary to provide protection to the animal and the public and the keepers were at fault for not using a tranquilizer gun but a live weapon. There were a great many faults in this tragedy including caging the animal to begin with. Rather than spending time pointing fingers let’s figure out a way to stop this from happening again. Lets start with parents controlling your children instead of being controlled BY your children and go from there!

  25. Ginger says:

    I’ve supported your views for years, however, why now do comments need to be made about “Trump boys.?.” What does that have to do with the situation, except you are making a political bashing which is non relevant to the situation. I’m sure there are Clinton and Sanders boys in hunting in Africa too. Give me a break, this was about the animals not politics.

  26. MIRTA says:

    The whole scenario would have been different if zoos didn`t exist.Very simple: no zoos,animals at large in their habitat,no chance of anyone falling into cages – or whatever miserable premises – of prospective dangerous animals…
    Basically,if you want to see animals, travel and watch them in the wilderness.
    Nature is wise.HUMANS,stop interfering with Mother nature and many problems will be avoided.

  27. Joan Gray says:

    It goes without saying that a certain amount of danger is observed, when standing outside a Gorilla exhibit, Your first instinct as a parent is to protect your child from harm. Because the signs posted on the exhibit .SAY.keep out , do not enter, etc DANGER. SO just that day the parents didn’t read the warnings,,, see the post, get the message, Honestly I find it hard to believe the 4 year old was out of sight for just a few minutes, He had to be out of sight for a while , enough to get past a barrier, shrubs. bushes,basically a barricade and he was crawling to get through it all which means he had to be moving slow, then end up falling 15 ft..only then was he noticed,.but he was ALREADY in with the Gorilla, who did not harm the child, he was alone with him for 10 minutes, IT SHOULD HAVE NEVER TAKEN 10 minutes to rescue the child, WHILE there was little that could be done, because the zoo was unprepared and a parent failed protecting their child, The Gorilla gets shot, put to death,

  28. Viki says:

    How about if people don’t support these hell holes where animals are on display for family entertainment, they should be in the wild where they belong, just as the boy should have been at a park like the rest of us animal loving people do and we wouldn’t even be having this discussion PERIOD

  29. DB says:

    Why is no one else seeing this as another sign that zoos, aquariums, theme parks featuring animals etc. need to be closed? Think about the rational for keeping animals caged for their entire lives, it usually amounts to some line about animal conservation. So how are you conserving animals by shooting them? This is the second case in a month about zoo animals being put to death because of humans entering their enclosures. In 2016 there is no reason to keep animals on display for the entertainment of humans. If you would like to see how an animal looks in the wild then google it! If an organization is truly devoted to wildlife conservation and saving endangered species then they should do that in a natural setting and on the same continent the animals would be found on in the wild. The time has come to end the senseless captivity of animals for human enjoyment.

  30. Taylor Priest says:

    And you, Mr. Pacelle, think I, an animal rescuer, care about the words of a man who was photographed with his arm around Michael Vick and whose organization openly promotes him as a hero? Seriously? Your words hold no meaning or power for me, because you are a sell out. Your organization exists simply to support your overly abundant salary. You sell out animals over and over and over again, but we, in the animal rescue community are now supposed to look to your pathetic self for leadership? Get LOST, Pacelle, lover of Michael Vick!

  31. Juls Robertson says:

    All I want to know is HOW & WHY did that child get in the enclosure….where were the parents, these days you can’t hardly take your eyes off of your kids in a public place. How long did he go un-noticed? Another innocent animal killed because of careless humans! Aloha* & RIP Harmambe

  32. Susan Ott says:

    In the end it was a terrible tragedy for the gorilla and hopefully a lesson to everyone else ( parents, officials, animal lovers). Peace.

  33. Liz Harshbarger says:

    This is not balanced or factual. The Zoo, who by the way, deal with these animals on a daily basis made a tough but good call. If you’ve watched the video, the Gorilla was not being gentle. And while this no win situation was incredibly tragic, the zoo did what they were forced to do. The parents, however should be charged. And buy the way, bringing the Trump boys into this shows me your political agenda. Using this tragedy to push your politics is disgusting.

  34. Liz says:

    Beautifully written! It often seems that people need something big and horrific to happen in order to take a stand for animals when on a daily basis animals take a back burner on peoples moral compass. Wish more would realise we don’t need to use animals at their expense for our own selfish pleasure when there are plenty of options where everyone stays alive and unhurt.

  35. May Rockwood says:

    I once lost my four year old at the Central Park Zoo for 10 minutes. I was there with my other daughter and her friend. The last thing my four year old said was, “Mommy where are the Polar Bears?” I said, “over there–we’re going there in a minute.” The place was crowded and I was busy talking to my other daughter, when we realized she slipped away. It was the worse feeling in the world. I asked a few people, if they saw a little girl with a pink jacket and they said, “yes, she’s over at the Polar Bear Exhibit.

  36. Sikoya says:

    Zoos are a thing of the past. Anyone who buys a ticket to a zoo or aquarium or any facility that enslaves animals is to blame. We will never be an enlightened society until we extend compassion to all living creatures. Zoos serve no purpose. It’s animal abuse, pure and simple.

  37. Darlene BROWN says:


  38. guendalyn hall says:

    he held the boys hands as he screamed to show him he take care him just carried him away from the croud and than waitedsomeone to come get the boy from the cage door ,he seen ppl before he knows he not dumb animal ok

  39. Giuliana Rinaldo says:

    The tragic death of Harambe really came down to not wanting a lawsuit from the family if the boy was injured in anyway. I say injured and NOT harmed because from the video, it seems like Harambe was taking care of him in his own way. I know he dragged him briskly, but that was probably due to all the chaos he heard and saw coming from above his enclosure. On lookers, said Harambe also seemed scared due to all the commotion – who wouldn’t be!

    I agree with the previous commentators in that: the tranquilizing dosage could be adjusted to take affect quicker and the enclosures could have been upgraded long ago based on another gorilla incident with a child at another zoo.

    Sadly, it really all comes down to money. Money could have been spent to make enclosures impossible to slip through and of course not wanting a lawsuit for injuries, etc.

    The zoo and zoo’s really fail the animals when they don’t spend the money for proper upgrades on enclosures and maybe there could be more zoo staff being vigilant to see that people are where they should be while visiting the zoo.

    I think we are all sad too because it seems like Harambe’s death could have been avoided by many different measures that could and should have taken place both prior and during the incident. Proper maintenance of enclosures to proper protocol in handling the crises. I also agree with Wayne that a tranquilizer gun with a real gun as a backup could have been the compromise.

  40. Jeremy says:

    I have entertained various opinions, comments and concerns regarding this tragic event. I have wrestled around with all of the information I have been able to obtain via news, internet, etc. and one scenario that stuck me, and I would appreciate it if I could get some feedback on this, it goes like this:

    Suppose you were outback on the patio of your ranch or flat… preparing food to grill for a cookout or dinner. Suddenly, to your surprise, a baby smacks down on the patio floor next to you… where you are positioned doing your preparation. The baby starts screaming ‘bloody murder’ at you out of pain and shock, as any 4 year old would be expected to especially after twitter had unexpectedly kidnapped their parents.

    You are now in state of shock and forced to take a primitive stance toward protecting the baby, defending yourself, adapting to the situation, etc. You immediately look up with a true ‘primitive gaze’ speaking directly into the eyes of the foreign and unknown… only to observe people positioned in close quarters on a scaffold screaming like they were being ‘burned alive’ at you. You witness strange objects, hand signals, martians and motions waiving around.

    Meanwhile, your under duress, with not a second to think and in fear for this baby you’ve inherited, as well as your survival… you seek to find protection, you react. You flee from direct view of this scaffold that rests above you, dragging that little child by the skin of their ear or whatever you can grasp as you are in a pure state of survival. You head toward the gazebo because its your safest bet in view and away from this anarchy that is taking place and with the baby.

    Just short of arriving at this safe haven (Gazebo), you are greeted by the Special Ops. team that kills you before you can blink, because of child endangerment (obviously)- B.S.! So, your dead now on your back patio of your home, because people couldn’t watch you cook responsibly, and you have enough god damned sense to do what anyone would due and drag that little one out of harms way because suddenly everyones coming of you…not fair.

    Harambe was a utilitarian and hero demonstrated more intelligence and responsibility than the idiots that surrounded him.

    • Giuliana says:

      I am with you Jeremy: Good point, mother could have been distracted on her cell phone and we all know that’s not acceptable. Your job as a parent is to be vigilant of your children when you are out and about for various reasons.

      I feel primarily it’s the AZA, the USDA, and it’s the zoo’s responsibility because the zoo shot Harambe and the AZA and USDA should have taken the similar incident that happened at the Brookfield Zoo in 1996 as bench mark to check and upgrade risky enclosures that have obvious liabilities if needed for all zoo’s in the U.S. However, I don’t know what the money situation is with respect to the zoo’s across the U.S. If zoo’s lack funds, they can also hold fund raisers for a good cause.

      It just seems like some of the enclosures are not thought out and practical where curious or daring children and adults are concerned. Yes, accidents happen, but you can also be more vigilant as a zoo and eliminate the possibilities of these types of accidents by learning from past mistakes of other zoos and yourselves and make specific improvements.

      So, now we have this incident to learn from and hopefully all the zoo’s will take note and make improvements.

      I just want to say on a good note that it is so heartfelt and touching that so many people, including myself can show so much love and concern for Harambe, knowing that he matters, as every life does – #animal lives matter.

  41. Kate Surman says:

    Another preventable tragic loss for the animal community which sadly occurs everyday around the world due to the dumbest and most ignorant of species: homo sapiens.(Winner and still champion ad nauseum infinitum)

    Regarding this horrific event:
    – I agree with Mr. Pacelle that a tranquilizing dart should have been tried before lethal force which should be the last resort. This is done all the time here for bears who wander into human food areas (trash, etc.).
    -There seems to have been no effort on the part of the zoo staff to immediately remove the hysterical crowd including the mother from the area which was clearly causing Hamrambe to become more confused about what was occurring. Those ten minutes could have been used to get his handlers there who knew him and could have tried some means of distraction to help both Harambe and the child. A well trained emergency team could have done this. Clearly, there was no plan at all. Shame on the zoo and shame on the parents!!
    – A special team should have been ready and should have been routinely practicing for situations just like this. Fire and Rescue teams for people and animals and the military do this all the time (I am a veteran and I have done countless drills as part of training which does work when it is the real thing).
    -Zoos are not amusement parks. They must to be more like sanctuaries. Look at Keenesburg Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado. They know what they are doing, which clearly the zoo and all involved there did not!
    -For all the research done to primates in the name of human medical research and this was the best we could do? We are an even lesser species and we have let our fellow animals down (again).
    -How are the remaining primates dealing with this at the zoo? More sadness.
    -Hopefully, Harambe’s remains will be sent back to Brownsville, Texas where he was born and raised so that he can truly rest in piece near those who loved and cared for him the best.
    -Another animal incident gone horribly wrong in Ohio (Zanesville, 2011).

  42. Catalina says:

    I have never been a great fan of zoos – a personal choice because I cannot stand seeing animals confined to small cages/enclosures while people view them. I also think a big problem is the lack of education and respect many people exhibit regarding the purpose of having these animals there in the first place. I stopped visiting zoos because every time I went I would witness one or more incidents of people harassing an animal, seemingly acting as if the animals are there for our entertainment. Even zoo personnel adds to this misconception by putting on a “show” in the seal enclosure, feeding them only after they perform for the human audience!

    I agree that the public needs to be more aware of the bigger picture in regards to animal cruelty and abuse. However, specifically addressing the tragic killing of Harambe, it would certainly be worth investing more funds and effort to ensure the safety of animals from visitor intrusions.

  43. Nolan says:

    Check out this Harambe t-shirt I Love T-shirt get it at the link below!


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