A silverback gorilla, a toddler, and a decision to be made. The untimely demise of Harambe is stirring debate across the country.
Forced to act quickly, the zoo’s response team was in an unenviable position. Animal behavior is unpredictable, they’re wild. But so are people.
In 1996 at the Brookfield Zoo a toddler fell into the gorilla exhibit, in 1999 a man was found dead with a killer whale at Sea World, in 2009 a woman jumped into the polar bear enclosure at the Berlin Zoo, in 2012 a toddler fell into an African Wild Dog enclosure; the list goes on.
It makes you wonder, should enclosures be made to keep animals in? Or to keep people out?
Since 1990, animals died during escapes or attacks 42 times in U.S. zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, 15 zoo incidents resulted in the loss of human life, and 110 resulted in injury according to Born Free, USA.
People entering enclosures range from “accidental” like the toddler in the Brookfield Zoo and the current case with Harambe, to suicidal, and downright deranged. The Beijing Zoo has had multiple occasions of people entering Gugu the Panda’s exhibit to “hug” him. He’s bitten them every time, but it hasn’t seemed to stop the incidents.
So what is the point in zoos? Do they contribute to conservation? Spark appreciation? Or are they outdated and unnecessary?
When bringing my son to the zoo, we would meander from one exhibit to another, observing the animals; discussing each one, explaining their habits, their likes and quirks. We bonded over our love for animals. He learned appreciation, respect, and the connections all of us as living beings have in the world.
In the age of cell phones, selfies, and convenience, are zoos an insignificant place where the awe and wonder of animals are taken for granted? Is conservation just a trend on twitter? What is more endangered, the animals or our empathy and connection with our world?