On May 28 2016 a three year old boy told his mother he wanted to go be with the gorillas. She had taken him and her other children to the zoo. They got to the gorilla enclosure and the little boy wanted to go be with the gorillas so he climbed the barrier and fell into the gorilla enclosure. One of the gorillas climbed down and got the boy. The gorilla was shot because zoo officials feared that the gorilla would kill the little boy. People were outraged.
Many people thought there should have been another way to handle the situation instead of killing the gorilla. They were angry at the zoo and they were angry at the mother who, they felt, didn’t pay enough attention to what her child was doing. She actually got death threats.
People were asking all sorts of questions and blaming this person or that person and being angrier over the death of the gorilla than the fact that a child almost died. The questions I was asking, wasn’t why wasn’t the enclosure more secure? Or why wasn’t the mother paying closer attention to her son? Or why did they have to shoot the gorilla? The question I was asking was this: Why did the little boy think he could go into the gorilla enclosure?
People always seem to address the symptom of a problem rather than addressing the root of the problem. If the little boy hadn’t thought the gorilla was like the ones he had seen on TV, he never would have gone in there and the entire incident wouldn’t have happened. The root of the problem is the way we present animals to children. Animals are given human voices, human actions and they are cute and cuddly. They wear human clothes and they think and act like humans. Children who have difficulty differentiating between reality and fantasy, think that the animals in the zoo are the same as the ones they see in books, on TV and on film.
Children do not understand that animals in real life are predators and will eat them. Or that animals, like gorillas, weigh over 400 pounds and can rip them in half easily. When we take them to zoos it only helps to make animals seem like cartoon characters, things that are cute, cuddly, non threatening and entertaining. That poor little boy who climbed into the gorilla enclosure put himself in danger because he thought the gorilla would be just like the ones he saw on TV. He told his mother he wanted to go be with the gorillas. He thought he could go there and play with them.
Nowadays we see people pull animals out of the water so they can take a selfies with them. There was the incident at Yellowstone National Park where two people put a baby bison in their car because they though it was cold. Even adults don’t understand that animals in the wild are not toys. We can’t play with them, we can’t use them in selfies for our entertainment. We shouldn’t get close to them or try to pet them. If an adult doesn’t get that concept, how can a child?
The problem in the zoo wasn’t the mother not paying attention to what her child was doing. It wasn’t that the zoo didn’t create a safe enough enclosure. The problem is us and the way we present animals in the media. We need to stop humanizing them. Stop dressing them up as humans. Stop putting them in zoos so they seem safe. They are wild animals and they belong in their natural habitats. They deserve the right to be animals. We need to present them to children as creatures to fear, not befriend. If we had done that, Harambe would still be alive living in a forest somewhere with his mates than in a zoo with humans gawking at him and little kids climbing into his home so they can play with him.