I like the rest of the world was so sad to hear the news of the shooting of the silverback gorilla Harambe at Cincinnati zoo, when a three year old boy fell into his enclosure. But what saddened me more was the almost instant viral damning of the child’s parents on social media. With venomous comments like “shoot the child’s parents instead” from other parents being added to feeds (I’m not making assumptions here, many a thread started with “I have kids and I would never…”). Where has all the empathy gone?
I’ve lost my child before, have you? Can we as parents honestly say we have never taken our eyes off our child for a moment? It’s not without good reason the nickname for my son when I blog is Houdini. – FYI zoos of the world he’s available to hire!! (and his sister isn’t a bad escapee either, if not better due to her small size and decidedly slippery nature). Build the enclosure, hire a job lot of three year olds and if they can get in then you need to go back to the drawing board. Hell why not cover them in blue dye and then you’ll see how they got in too…
It is sorrowful the planet lost one of its precious endangered creatures. However the situation occurred, I don’t imagine that mother’s intention was to take her son to a zoo leave him unattended and then fear for his life when he fell into a gorilla enclosure. I’ve been there, (not literally at Cincinnati zoo, but at a zoo, at a wildlife park, at the library) I’ve stood with my three year old by my side, holding his hand, I’ve bent down to pick his crying sister up, let go of his hand for a second, and he’s gone… thankfully he’s never come to any harm. But every time I experience those seconds of panic, that horrid feeling I may be the mum on the six o’clock news. It is terrifying as a parent that you can’t watch them 24/7. Although its physically impossible, it is none the less terrifying.
I experienced it for the first time when I was handed my tiny defenceless new-born and thought ‘how will I ever sleep again? How will I ever take my eyes off you? How will I allow myself to take my awe struck gaze from you and sleep, trusting you’ll manage to breathe on your own?’. You have to trust things will be O.K.
When we visit attractions with our family we have to trust that the place we are visiting has done everything in its power to protect us and our children, whilst providing the very sights and experiences we’ve paid money to see.
In these throw away comments on Facebook feeds this mothers whole existence as a parent is being judged in the matter of seconds it took for her child to escape her grasp. Would I be happy for my parenting to be judged on 60 seconds? Can I honestly say any snap shot of my life that is 60 seconds long would paint me in the perfect light? I for one can think of a number of minutes I’m less than proud of as a parent. But that’s the gig, the rough with the smooth. It’s not all perfect, I don’t profess it is, but I also wasn’t shouting “shoot the parents”. Where has the sisterhood gone? Why are we so quick to pull each other apart? Would all those professing Harambe could have been tranquilised willingly stand by and take that chance with their own child?
With more open enclosures and reduced barriers in zoos these terrifying accidents can happen. One of the most eloquent views I have read on the decision to shoot Harambe was written by Carla Litchfield for theconversation.com. As she so wisely puts it “one lesson we can take from this sad episode is the need to be realistic about the conditions in which gorillas and other captive animal live” ” we can’t pretend that a moated enclosure without bars is any less of a cage than one with mesh”. I’m sure the arguments as to who is to blame will rumble on, it’s certainly raised questions over the standards of modern zoo practice and what we are willing to give up in terms of both animal and human safety in pursuit of an unimpeded view of nature’s great giants. But let’s be more compassionate, let’s put ourselves in these parents shoes, and let’s not judge from edited YouTube clips or endless streams of comments on Facebook.
Rest in Peace Harambe.