Harambe; Better Off Dead Than Alive In A Zoo

Harambe; Better Off Dead Than Alive In A Zoo

Harambe; Better Off Dead Than Alive In A Zoo

By now, we’ve all seen the video and stories. A four year old was clearly not being watched by his loser parents, and slipped into the enclosed Gorilla habitat at the Cincinnati Zoo. This kid had time to get through wires, and over a moat before he made contact with the 450 pound endangered gorilla named Harambe. This was well more than a split instant. Witnesses claim that they heard the child state that he wished to go into the enclosure and was actively trying to breach the barriers. What happened next is heartbreaking. 

We see Harambe taking in this random child who has suddenly entered his habitat, and being very gentle with him. He appears to stand in front of the child as if to protect him. Once the parents and zoo goers start screaming he clearly becomes agitated. He drags the child through the water, but then gently stands him up, and in a moment that gets me every time-Harambe lovingly pulls up the little boys shorts. 

The zoo keepers had to make a quick decision. They shot Harambe with a slow acting tranquilizer dart. But Harambe grew up in the wild and was not raised by people. Gorillas of his size can crush a coconut as easy as a human can crush an ant. Knowing he could be very agitated by this dart,  which could take 10-15 minutes to work, they were put in a lose-lose situation. Should they wait for the tranquilizer to work, and potentially have a very horrific public death of a child on their hands? Or do they kill their beloved gorilla, and face the protests and repercussions of that? With a childs death at the zoo, they would surely be out if business within a year. Weighing the options, they chose to shoot and kill Harambe, in what i’m sure was a gut wrenching decision. Ian Redmond, who is the chairman of the National Gorilla Association says that the zookeepers had options other than killing Harambe. He states “When gorilla or other apes have things they shouldn’t have, keepers will negotiate with them, bring food, their favorite treats, pineapple or some kind of fruit that they don’t know and negotiate with them.” 
Animal expert Jack Hanna feels to opposite. “I can tell you now, that there’s no doubt in my mind the child would not be here today if they hadn’t made that decision” Hanna said. “You’re dealing with either human life or animal life here. So what is the decision? I think it’s very simple to figure that out.”

Gorillas like Harambe are critically endangered in the wild, numbering fewer than 175,000, according to the zoo. An additional 765 gorillas dwell in zoos worldwide. Western low land Gorillas are very gentle, self aware animals. They do not attack unless provoked. Because of this, animal rights activists, animal lovers & celebrities worldwide are in an uproar demanding that these irresponsible parents who allowed Harambe to be provoked be punished. Less than 24 hours after the incident a petition surfaced on Change.org to hold the parents responsible for this, and be looked into by Child Protective Services. Over 100,000 people have signed this in favor of “Justice For Harambe.” 
My hope is that the conversation arising from this horrific situation shifts from blame of both the zoo and parents, to one about boycotting zoos in general. The truth is animals like Harambe are not living happy lives in their false enclosures, with humans gawking at them all day long. Zoos may provide food and shelter for these animals, but they do not provide them with the quality of life they lead in the wild, or deserve. 

Zoos began in 1250 B.C. when humans started to keep exotic animals behind bars for entertainment. But as we have evolved as a society, why haven’t these cruel practices? While it is true that animals who are injured and in need of rehabilitation, or wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild can benefit from zoos, there are also many reasons zoos do more harm than good. 

In recent years at The Nationial Zoo, a pregnant kudu and a Dama gazelle were spooked by visitor noise and both killed when they ran into walls. Zoos worldwide spend millions per year building enclosures for exotic and endangered animals like Harambe. The more endangered and rare the animal, the more profit the zoo makes. Not only do these rare animals drive ticket sales and boost numbers, they also boost gift shop sales. 

How would you feel if someone put you in a fake house with a glass wall where people gawked and took photos of you all day long? Not very free or happy i’m sure. These animals are no different. While many people still believe zoos are educational, abuse free places to visit animals, the reality is that there are many reasons everyone should seriously consider boycotting them. 

  • Enclosures

No matter how big a zoo builds an enclosure, these in no way match the animals natural habitats. They are far smaller and provide far less stimulation. Elephants for instance, travel 30 miles a day in the wild. Spaces for zoo animals are 1,000 to 100,000 feet smaller than their natural territories are. Along with the unnatural climate and weather, no animal can thrive in a zoo. Lucy, a lone elephant at Edmonton zoo suffered severe arthritis from constant confinement due to weather. In 2015, The Bronx Zoo and Disney’s Animal Kingdom were named in the “10 Worst Zoos for Elephants”.


  • Zoochosis
If you’ve ever seen an animal rocking back and forth in its enclosure, you experienced Zoochosis firsthand. This condition is caused by animals becoming bored and lonely in their fake enclosures. In Dallas, a Gorilla tried to escape his zoochosis by climbing over a barrier, and was shot to death after injuring four. This illness is so common in zoos that animals are often given mood altering drugs like Prozac, so that their sadness won’t be a downer during your zoo visit. 
  • Ripped from the wild
In 2003 the UK allowed 146 penguins to be captured from the South Atlantic. Similar to slaves, they were then put on a 7 day boat ride before being given to a wildlife dealer, then sold to zoos in Asia. In 2010, Zimbabwe made plans to capture two of every mammal species living in the Hwange National Park including lions, cheetahs, rhinos, zebras, giraffes and elephants, in order to send them to North Korean zoos. Thank fully this plan was stopped by an animal rights organization. Despite what zoos would have you believe, figures also show that 79% of all animals in aquariums are wild captured.  Nobody knows exactly how many exotic animals live in captivity in the United States, though it’s estimated that there are at least 5,000 tigers more than exist in the wild. 
  • Disposal of surplus animals
Most zoos run captive breeding programs, because he draw of a new baby animal brings in big profit. The downside of this is that they are often left with surplus animals. Any animal that no longer fits into the breeding program, or is no longer profitable or useful can be considered surplus. Zoos are not responsible for lifetime care of these animals get rid of them at will. These surplus animals are often sold and traded through a password protected online database: the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Animal Exchange. Although zoos promote conservation of endangered species, this often takes a backseat when the animal is no longer worth the time or energy the zoo would need to invest to keep them. According to Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue,”if the animals are lucky, they may be traded or sent to another zoo or accredited facility. Some get transferred to multiple zoos throughout their lives. But a large number of them go to private breeders, pet owners, circuses, roadside zoos, and canned hunting ranches.” Often this even ends with animals being sold to taxidermists. In the US there is shockingly little regulation on trading and purchasing exotic animals. 

Very few of the zoos who claim to breed animals for the purpose of “conservation” actually do this. If they did, there would not be “surplus” animals, because they would be returned to the wild.

If the situation with Harambe teaches us anything, I hope it is that it is unnatural and cruel for animals like him to be captured and kept in captivity for human entertainment. Wild animals belong in the wild, not in zoos where there is little quality of life. The next time you have the urge to visit a zoo, consider donating money to an animal sanctuary instead. Sanctuaries are a place for animals to retire. There the animals are respected, and not treated as a prop or an object. As long as we continue to pay to visit zoos, this archaic tradition will thrive.


About Renée Nicole Gray

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