After Cincinnati Zoo Incident, Finger Pointing but Few Answers

On Saturday, May 28, a three-year old boy fell into the moat of the gorilla exhibit at the famed Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, resulting in a tragedy that has sparked intense passion and finger-pointing but few answers as to what should be done.

After the child fell into the exhibit, a 400-pound 17-year old gorilla named Harambe investigated and engaged with the boy. Whether or not the gorilla was attempting to protect or harshly play with the child – a distinction around which much online debate has emerged – the giant primate did drag the boy forcefully, leading to the Zoo’s decision to kill the gorilla before any serious harm could be done.

Authorities deemed a non-lethal approach, such as using a tranquilizer, too risky as the time that the desired effect would take would allow the agitated Harambe to lash out.  The celebrity zookeeper Jack Hanna is one of many industry professionals who have come out in support of the Cincinnati Zoo’s actions.

Other conservation experts contend that there were alternatives, as Ian Redmond of the UK-based Gorilla Organisation explained to The Guardian:

Was a lethal shot the only option? No, I don’t think so. Were other options tried? You could have offered the gorilla more fruit than he could ever normally imagine in one sitting and then the boy would have become less interesting to him. It seemed like no one was prepared to go into the enclosure.

The one thing that people can seem to agree on it that someone is to blame – the big question is who.

Many online commentators were quick to denounce the child’s mother, calling her egregiously neglectful. Witnesses on the scene have claimed that moments before the child fell into the exhibit they overheard him comment to his mother that he wanted to enter the moat.

This anecdotal evidence has thrown fuel on the fire of outrage engulfing the internet. One change.org petition called “Justice for Harambe” has already received nearly 500,000 signatures and goes as far as to call for authorities to investigate the family’s home life, as well as for the mother to be held accountable – whatever exactly that means.

Other commentators, including Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon, have derided the simplistic blame levied against the boy’s family, remarking that “all the internet outrage in the world won’t bring Harambe back, or make a hard decision a simple one.”

Whether a response to the public’s outcry or the result of carefully considered facts, Cincinnati police announced on Tuesday that they would investigate the boy’s family and not the safety protocols of the zoo.

While the ease with which the child was able to enter to the enclosure does ring some alarms over zoo security, the fact remains that this is a first for the nearly 150-year old zoo. At the end of the day, zoos pose inherent issues when bringing human spectators face-to-face with wildlife in tight spaces.

Perhaps a better channel for people’s passion is to do something proactive rather then chastise and attack a Cincinnati-area family, no matter how cathartic that may be. There are a number of excellent conservation nonprofits, such as those listed below, that could benefit from the support of those eager to keep endangered species – including silver back gorillas like Harambe – alive for generations to come.

The Nature Conservancy 

World Wildlife Fund

Natural Resources Defense Council

The Sierra Club

Conservation International

Blow to Ivory Trade Latest Animal Rights Win

Good news for elephants and the animal welfare advocates fighting to secure their future.

Earlier this month, Hong Kong announced that it would phase out the legal retail of ivory. Banned throughout much of the world, the ivory trade has continued to enjoy some protections in Hong Kong, where as many as 400 traders currently have licenses to trade in the material.

Esmond Martin – a co-author of the 2015 Save the Elephants report – remarks on how Hong Kong factors into a vast international trade that is driving elephants toward extinction: “No other city surveyed has so many pieces of ivory on sale as Hong Kong,” he told CNN, explaining that researchers found more than 30,000 items crafted out of ivory for sale inside the city.

Another advocate, Alex Hofford of WildAid Hong Kong, referred to Hong Kong as “the dark heart of the ivory trade” and believes that the closure of the city’s legal market will greatly benefit global elephant populations.

These developments come in the wake of other outstanding news in the world of animal rights advocacy and environmental conservation. Ringling Bros. announced on January 11 that the famous circus act will phase out its use of show elephants a year and a half ahead of schedule (the company announced its intention of ending the practice earlier last year).

Additionally, toward the end of 2015, SeaWorld announced that it would end its orca shows, which have grown increasingly controversial following the release of the documentary Black Fish and a growing body of research that shows that the gargantuan creatures endure immense harm in captivity.

These are no small victories. Nonprofit organizations working for environmental protections and animal rights have been tackling these issues for decades. While these victories may not have come a moment too soon, they likely would not have come about at all without the tireless advocacy put in by thousands of passionate nonprofit professionals to raise awareness and get results.

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