Friday, June 03, 2016

"And coming up in our next hour - Robin's exclusive sit-down interview with the amazing little gorilla boy and his parents! But first..."

The handsome, sentient Harambe's fate was sealed the very minute that kid fell into his moat.  Whatever would have transpired, he would have been shot and killed.

Police Lieutenant: "Well, Denham, the airplanes got him."

Carl Denham: "Oh no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty that killed the beast."

The familiar dialogue, of course, is from the iconic 1933 production of "King Kong," written by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose and co-directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack.

But in the case of handsome Harambe, the 17-year-old western lowland gorilla who was murdered by the facility that was supposed to protect and nurture him, it was reckless stupidity that killed this gentle, magnificent creature.

Harambe was murdered on Saturday, May28th, the day after his 17th  birthday.

A willful child.  A possibly negligent mother. A clueless zoo.  A dead gorilla.

I reference this disturbing story, which has nothing to do with movies other than its unsettling similarity to "King Kong," because it will not go away anytime soon. With the media being what they are today - namely, insatiable and shameless - be prepared for the boy and his parents, when they are finally and officially unmasked, to be all over the place, along with the zoo's executive director and possibly even the gorilla's killer.  All of them are likely to be quite ubiquitous for at least a week or two, especially on television - on the morning infotainment shows in particular.

I predict that the unnaturally cheerful group on ABC's "Good Morning, America!" will get first dibs, sensitively questioning the kid and mother, listening attentively to some expert and feigning concern for the dead animal. It's what an overpaid television executive would call "great TV."

By now, I'm sure that you are familiar with the disturbing story of the gorilla Harambe, an inmate at the Cincinnati Zoo, who was assassinated by the zoo after a four-year-old child ignored his mother, went on an "adventure" and fell into the gorilla's moat. Harambe was an endangered species, being held in Cincinnati for breeding purposes.  It's an ugly story.

And this story follows quickly on the heels of the one about the baby bison that was euthanized by its caretakers at Yellowstone National Park after visitors there, who meant no harm, handled it.  Why was the bison put down?  It was easier than caring for it.  (I'm paraphrasing what Yellowstone's officials actually said but that's the gist of it.)  And why was Harambe put down?  That's among the questions I'll ask later.  But the bottom line is, it's not a good time for captive animals, friends.

And it hasn't helped that the spokesperson for the zoo - its executive director Thayne Maynard - has come across as curiously callous and unflappable.  Perhaps he has been trying to be a calm or "manly" presence in the face of a tragedy or perhaps he's naturally stoic, but a little emotion and some show of concern would have made him more convincing and, by extension, his dubious decision less drastic.

After Harambe was shot and killed, it's been reported that reproductive bilogists extraced "viable sperm" from the gorilla for artificial insemination and gneetic research.

"There's a future," Maynard has said. "It's not the end of his gene pool." Not a good comment.  Sounds like he got what his zoo wanted.  Even in death, after his life had been diminished by being jailed in a zoo, Harambe was exploited and humiliated. Being imprisoned wasn't enough.

As for the media, nothing in-depth or tough has emerged. As for questions that need to be - and should be - answered, I have these...

  • Why would a woman with four children in tow, including an infant, go to a zoo with no support?

  • Why would anyone take a four-year-old, let alone an infant to a zoo?  Does anyone realistically think a four-year-old would absorb anything from a zoo visit (other than the fact that gorillas, or any other precious animals, shouldn't be imprisoned there)?

  • Wouldn't a four-year-old be better served by an insipid Disney cartoon about gorillas?  Or is it possible that this four-year-old has seen one too many insipid Disney cartoons and, consequently, can't distinquish fantasy from reality?  (Hence, the headstrong kid's reported insistence that he be allowed to enter the habitat of an endangered species, ignoring the word "no" from his mother.)

  • Why was the gorilla moat so easily accessed?  If a four-year-old could penetrate the barrier, anyone could.

  • Where was the handler who normally socialized with Harambe? Namely, someone who could reason with the gorilla, given that it's been widely reported that one can indeed reason with a gorilla?  (Gorillas are apparently exactly like us, something most humans don't want to hear.  We're superior, see?  But are we really?)

  • Given how quickly the zoo decided to put down Harambe, is it reasonable to assume that a sharpshooter is on the payroll full time and that a gun or rifle is readily available all the time? How handy.

  • Who exactly shot Hamabre?  Why hasn't that Zoo employee been indentified?  And was the area cleared of the public for the killing?

  • And why is so little information being extended by the zoo and the local police?  Why, for example, has the family been protected by both the authorities and the major media? Actually, anyone resourceful can go on the internet and easily locate this info.

  • Why has the family hired the Gail Myers Public Relations firm to answer questions and make statements? A public relations firm?  Hmmm. No, this story is not going away anytime soon.

  •  Shouldn't animals be protected from human interlopers, rather than the other way around? Isn't a zoo supposed to protect its unwilling prisoners, not kill them? And in this sad case, the victim was, again, an endangered species. Absolutely unbelievable.

  • And why do we still have zoos?  Here's a case of an animal that was imprisoned his entire life, from his birth to his death, and then murdered when he became an inconvenient PR problem.

  • OK, what if the kid had died before Harambe was shot?  I refuse to believe that the gorilla would have intentionally killed the boy but that the kid would have died accidentally.  Yes, what if the kid had died?  Is it safe to assume that Harambe still would have been put down - in response to the situation?  I think so, absolutely. Perhaps he would have been taken down even if the kid lived - shot for mauling the boy.
Perhaps he would have been taken down even if the kid lived - shot for mauling the boy.

Harambe's fate, unfortunately, was sealed the very moment that kid fell into his moat.

Finally, a touchy observation that has been brought up in an excellent editorial in The Philadelphia Inquirer:  "Zoo officials killed him according to the principle that human life is worth more than animal life. Though we tend to acknowledge it less readily or consistently, some animal lives must in turn be considered more valuable than others." At last, someone said it.

It's humans who, in convenient self-interest, decided that human lives are so much more important than animal lives. A case of conflict of interest.

Note in Passing: Harambe means "pull together" in Swahili.  His nickname at the zoo was Handsome. Perfectly describing the mood of the moment is Anthony Seta, organizer of the vigil in memory of Harambe, who in this brief video, notes that he was part of the Cincinatti community.


William M. said...

Thanks very much, Joe, for sharing your perspective on this situation. It's valuable insight.

dick d. said...

I hate zoos and never visit them. Zoo keepers should be put in the cages and then let the animals look at them. I also hate places like Sea World. The trainers should be fed to the Whales. We live in n awful world and it just keeps getting worse.

Lori said...

Thanks for the great article. What a sad story.

Joyce said...

Joe, I couldn't agree more. An elephant taking tourists for rides died of the heat in India today. I'll never forget going to the Philadelphia Zoo once and looking at this great gorilla who gave me a mournful look from his glass cage. It was like looking another human being in the eye. Honestly, I will never forget it. Imagine living 17 years in a structured, unnatural environment, only to be shot. It is too sad for words. Gorillas are my favorite animals because they seem so human. This is a true tragedy.

Herb said...

Hi Joe, Good article. Thanks for sharing.

Patty said...

Just curious, do you think it is the zoo's fault for not having a better barrier or does some responsibility lie with the parent?

joe baltake said...

Fingers can be safely pointed at both, Patty. This is one of those cases where there's enough blame to go around.

Alex said...

The design of the zoo was 100% the problem.

Tommy said...

I am afraid you are right about poor Harambe. I also doubt he would have intentionally harmed the kid. I feel anger at the irresponsible parent, but also sympathy because the family's life will always be tainted. If and when the parent's identity is revealed, he or she will get hate mail. And the poor kid-wherever he goes, people will say "there is the boy who ..."

Anyway, I am no fan of zoos, -the whole idea offends me.

Charlotte said...

I saw a few animal experts interviewed and Jack Hanna said he agreed with the decision to kill Harambe because the animal was becoming visibly agitated by the noise of the crowd. It was also said that gorillas don't like water and he was in the water and did not know how to react. Then I read that the zoo keeps rifles Hidden throughout its property for the very purpose of killing or wounding animals that escape or act out. So I guess that would seal any animal's fate right there.

But what if a curious kid found a rifle?

As horrible as the whole thing is, at least poor Harambe will not have to endure the torture of being confined to an artificial environment. I also read elsewhere something that you mentioned - that they had saved his sperm to impregnate a female gorilla, so he will live on in some way - and hopefully where no harm will come to the offspring.

What surprised me is that the kid didn't crack his head open.

Seriously, I think my love of gorillas goes back to seeing "Mighty Joe Young" in movie theater as a kid.

Scott said...

You are right. Think you said it all. Harambe would have been shot because he was judged without trial as a dangerous beast. There goes one more endangered species.

Kiki said...

He was a handsome "inmate" -- in an institution where all the armed cops were just waiting for the right moment to gun him down. Thank you for writing this.

Lynn said...

Excellent article. Thanks for sharing.

Ginny said...

Thanks, Joe!

Vince Kowalski said...

This is a wonderful piece from the Inquirer because it addresses the real question -- not that Harambe died but that his life was so diminished. I had read the other piece where the zookeeper said Harambe was a good guy.

Sheila said...

Your post brought me to something I never thought about: How many captive animals are being abused in zoos? I mean, if they could do it to little catholic boys and girls (who have voices) in schools, zoos have got to be a lot easier for sick people. Never thought about it until now.

paul r. said...

The animal never had a chance. animals rarely do. I'm sick at heart over this.

Charlotte said...

I like the guy on the video link you posted. He's terrific and "part of the community" says it all indeed.

Brian Lucas said...

It never occurred to me that the kid could have gotten iced as well! I did think "why didn't they use a taser?" but it's the good old USA -- why stun when you can kill? Everybody, except the poor gorilla, is to blame here.

fred h. said...

I am consoled that so much public opinion reflects ours, Joe.

Jack T. said...

Thanks, Joe, for saying this