One week after Cincinnati Zoo officials fatally shot a gorilla to protect a child, one aspect of the public outcry proves many humans are birdbrained.
That’s actually unfair to birds. Many are quite intelligent. A study two years ago found that crows have the reasoning ability of a 7-year-old child. (When I read that, I imagined a crow perched on my shoulder convincing me to take him to Disney World.)
Yes, the death of Harambe, a Western lowland silverback gorilla, is tragic. Watching the viral video of his encounter with the boy, who will turn 4 in December, is heart-wrenching. But the rush to judgment by so many that the boy’s mother is “neglectful” and “unfit” exposes a sort of internet-age, lynch-mob mentality that should frighten us. She is, in fact, a well-regarded administrator at a licensed, 4-star-rated pre-school.
At this writing, more than 495,000 people have signed a “Justice for Harambe” petition at Change.org. Here is an excerpt of the petition language:
“Three things matter in the case of Justice for Harambe:
*Ensuring that the children of the involved family are safe.
*That the parents have necessary support they need to keep the children safe and that they have access to supportive services that will help them provide a safe environment.
*That proper LEGAL action is taken in this matter and responsible parties are held accountable if the investigation finds that there was negligence involved.
“We understand no parent is perfect, kids are curious and can slip away, but we do get concerned when a child was at risk for serious injury and death in one of the safest settings around. It is upsetting that people vilify the Cincinnati Zoo, an institution that has done so much work in trying to turn the tide against extinction in several critically endangered species.”
Setting aside the debate over whether animals belong in zoos versus wildlife sanctuaries, the fact that an unattended child could so quickly and easily enter a wild animal’s enclosure under any circumstances is prima facie evidence that the facility itself is deficient.
Enclosures for wild animals exhibited for public viewing should be impermeable in both directions. Period. Design safety should not depend on reliable behavior by zoo visitors.
Suppose that a parent has a seizure, and in fright, a child runs away? Suppose a child has a medical problem, and while the parent is attending to her, a sibling wanders away?
Suppose that instead of a child, the human in the enclosure is a mentally disturbed adult? Suppose he has a gun? Would zoo security shoot the healthy gorilla or the sick human?
I am astounded that law enforcement immediately began investigating the parents and ruled out any culpability on the part of the zoo. You can bet that if the little boy had died, there would be lawyers lined up to argue otherwise.
Among animals, humans are unique in many ways. The most dangerous is our capacity to lie to ourselves. How else to explain our inconsistent behavior toward one another and toward other animals? We love to tell ourselves we are rational, just and humane.
Given the long history of racial strife among our own species and how it stubbornly remains, (some observers saw racism in the cascade of criticism aimed at the mother) I should not be surprised that we show so much bias in our relationships with animals.
I’m trying to imagine how many of the nearly half-million supposed animal lovers propelling the online petition’s signature count higher this week had their smartphone in one hand and a hamburger in the other. Or a pork chop. Or chicken wings.
Our screens bring us delightful photos of puppies and kittens for entertainment. Commercials beg us to donate to save sad-eyed dogs and cats. We spend millions on organic pet food, toys, and veterinary care to pamper our preferred animals. Endangered species, like Harambe, attain the status of social justice causes and even block multi-million-dollar economic development projects.
Meanwhile, far from our sight and beyond the burden of conscience, industrial animal producers and slaughterhouses run 24/7, breeding, fattening and grinding less-favored animals into happy meals.
My point is not to scold readers for what they choose to eat. It is simply this: unless you are a vegan, please spare the self-righteous “justice for animals” routine.