If you’re angry at the mother for taking her eye off her kid long enough for him to wriggle into the gorilla pen, that’s fair enough. An innocent creature died because of that, although accidents do happen. No parent has their eye on their child at every moment, even on a family outing. If you’re angry at the zoo for not doing a better job of securing the pen knowing that small kids — who make up a fair share of their visitors, I’m sure — might foolishly try to find a way that in, that’s fair enough too. But if you’re angry that the zoo chose to use lethal force once the kid was in the pen and the gorilla had him in its hands, what’s your alternative? What sort of risk should the zoo have taken with the baby’s life in the name of using less than lethal force? If they had approached it and tried to lure it away with food or used tranquilizer rounds on it instead of live ammo and the gorilla had reacted by suddenly bashing the baby’s head in, how many in the “Why did you shoot the gorilla?” crowd would be in the “Why didn’t you shoot the gorilla?” group now?
The reason people are agonizing over this, I think, is because video of the incident shows the gorilla behaving gently with the baby. That makes the choice to kill it twice as gut-wrenching: It’s one thing to shoot a wild animal that’s charging a defenseless child, it’s another to shoot an animal that seems to be trying to protect it. But the video doesn’t capture the whole encounter. According to the woman who recorded it, the gorilla was more dangerous than the footage suggests:
At first, it looked like Harambe was trying to help the boy, O’Connor said. He stood him up and pulled up his pants.
As the crowd’s clamors grew, Harambe tossed the boy into a corner of the moat, O’Connor said, which is when she started filming. Harambe went over to the corner and shielded the boy with his body as the boy’s mother yelled “Mommy’s right here.”
The crowd’s cries appeared to agitate Harambe anew, O’Connor said, and the video shows him grabbing the boy by the foot. He dragged him through the water and out of the moat atop the habitat, O’Connor said.
By that point, “It was not a good scene,” she said. When the boy tried to back away the gorilla “aggressively” pulled him back into his body “and really wasn’t going to let him get away,” she said.
The clip runs around two minutes but the entire incident reportedly lasted more than 10. “The child was being dragged around,” the zoo’s director said earlier this afternoon. “His head was banging on concrete, this was not a gentle thing.” The zoo claims that a tranquilizer would have taken several minutes to kick in and that it might have agitated the gorilla, at which point its behavior would have become unpredictable. They had to stop it cold before it hurt the baby, even if only by accident, and there was only one way. What was the alternative?
Spare a thought for the zookeepers in all this, even if you’re furious at them for leaving a vulnerability in the enclosure through which a child could sneak in and cause this sort of terrible moral dilemma. Harambe, the gorilla, wasn’t a recent transplant from abroad. He was born in captivity; “baby pictures” of him are available online. The people who cared for him and then had to put him down at a moment’s notice to save a stranger’s child must be sick with grief. If I had to kill an animal I’d raised and loved in order to protect a random person, especially if that person’s actions had created the situation, it’d be a year before I stopped vomiting. They must be suffering terribly.
Exit question: Should the baby’s mother have climbed in too to try to save him? (You can hear her yelling at points on the video to the child that “mommy’s here.”) It’s hard to imagine how her going in after him wouldn’t have led to the same outcome, or a worse one. You’d expect a parent to try to sacrifice him- or herself in the interest of protecting their kid but a second strange person entering the pen might have further startled the gorilla, leading it to do God knows what with the baby. If you reasonably believe that going in after the child would increase the risk to him, not just to you, then the smart move is to stay put and wait for the pros, no?