Over last weekend, the Iraqi Army moved in to retake the much-fought-over city of Fallujah, 700 more refugees drowned in the Mediterranean, and Donald Trump — well, was Donald Trump.
So what was the primary focus of debate on the internet and elsewhere? The shooting of a gorilla.
In case you missed the hubbub, first please tell me how. Then hear this: a 4-year-old boy and his family were visiting the Cincinnati Zoo’s “Gorilla World” exhibit when he somehow climbed over the barrier and into the enclosure containing several gorillas, including a 17-year-old male named Harambe. Zookeepers were able to coax the others out, but Harambe stayed with the child, occasionally dragging him around the pen by one leg, occasionally looming over him. So the zookeepers shot and killed him. The boy’s now at home and recovering, according to his parents. Truly a sad event, but one which could have been much, much worse.
Enter the internet, where everyone is an expert and the death of an animal is way more important than anything that could happen to a human.
Dozens of armchair animal behaviorists came out of the electronic woodwork to insist that Harambe’s death was unnecessary. Some saw the grainy cellphone videos of the event online and claimed that, instead of being threatening, the gorilla was trying to “protect” the boy by standing over him and “cuddling” him.
Then other people who actually know things spoke up and said, uh, no, that’s not how male gorillas act.
“I have watched this video over again,” former zookeeper Amanda O'Donoughue wrote on Facebook, “and with the silverback's posturing and tight lips, it's pretty much the stuff of any keeper's nightmares.”
The whole video bears this out. Harambe was clearly stressed by the situation, especially all the screaming and shouting the crowd was doing. The poor beast didn’t know what was happening, and a 4-year-old in an enclosure with a stressed, confused gorilla is a bad, bad situation. Several zoologists note that, given the enormous strength of a 450-pound gorilla, they can do a lot of damage even in a playful mood.
But why kill him, many asked. Why not use a tranquilizer dart? The short answer is that life is not like the movies. According to another well-known zookeeper, Jack Hanna, an anesthetic dart could take five to 10 minutes to work, and in the meantime, you’ve got an even more confused and anxious gorilla, except now he’s also got a dart in his behind.
Then, inevitably, along came the self-appointed internet experts in (1) Parenting and/or (2) zoo design. The incident was either the parents’ fault for not watching their little tyke or the zoo’s fault for not designing a kid-proof enclosure. One online petition at a site called “Justice for Harambe” demands that the parents of the child be criminally indicted and opined, on no evidence whatsoever, that “this negligence may be reflective of the child's home situation.” As of this writing, it’s gained hundreds of thousands of signatures. The mother of the child has received online death threats.
It’s entirely possible that the parents were criminally negligent. But anyone who thinks that “the kid got away from them,” standing on its own, is proof of that negligence has either never had children or has been fortunate enough never to experience the stunned terror of having your kid slip away while you’re momentarily distracted in a store, park, or other public place. They’ve also never felt the incredible relief when you find the little jokester giggling inside a rack of clothes because he thinks it’s a funny game to hide from you in Belk. (He’s fine now, thank you, and working on his master’s thesis).
Also, people who complain that it’s too easy for a 4-year-old to get into a zoo's gorilla enclosure underestimate the cunning and resourcefulness of 4-year- olds.
If I ever write another heist novel, I'm putting a 4-year-old on the team:
“There’s a laser alarm system and three sets of metal doors! How are we going to get into the vault?”
“Tell little Tyler there’s a juice box and a toy monkey inside. Then turn your back for a second. He’ll get in.”
What happened to that poor animal was a tragedy, to be sure. The death certainly does raise some questions. Those questions aren’t going to be answered by the internet mob. But hey, don’t worry. Next week they’ll have found something new to be outraged about.