If Gorilla’s Death Moves You, Consider Other Animals’ Plights


Zoo visitors look at protesters and mourners from a walk bridge during a vigil for the gorilla Harambe outside the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. John Minchillo/AP hide caption

toggle caption John Minchillo/AP

Zoo visitors look at protesters and mourners from a walk bridge during a vigil for the gorilla Harambe outside the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.

Zoo visitors look at protesters and mourners from a walk bridge during a vigil for the gorilla Harambe outside the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.

John Minchillo/AP

The shooting death of Harambe, the 17-year-old western lowland gorilla, after a 3-year-old boy fell into his cage at the Cincinnati Zoo, is a tragedy in all ways.

Harambe delighted zoogoers, and may have meant the boy no harm.

The little boy’s parents say they are grateful their son survived and is doing well. But many people on social media platforms have attacked the mother as neglectful.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society, said on his blog that the debate over how Harambe died reminds him of old dorm room discussions where people would pose imaginary questions that weighed the life of an animal against a human being’s.

But if some of the people who snarl at the boy’s parents on social media want to do something more for animals, they may need to look no further than their own dinner.

We have heard a lot in recent years about the 8.5 billion chickens that are slaughtered for food in the United States every year. The ones that live on factory farms are kept in cages about as large as a sheet of copy paper. Their feet never touch the ground. They never see the sun or sky. They never play or mate. Their beaks are often snipped or burned off to keep them from pecking each other to death in those cramped, congested cages.

Harambe’s death might also remind us how more than 100 million pigs are raised for food in the United States. The ASPCA points out that pigs, who are known to be as intelligent as dogs, are one of the few animals Americans both keep as pets and raise for food.

Most pigs are kept in windowless sheds on factory farms, in cages so small they cannot turn around; so they will grow fat. They live in their own manure, and the air is so heavy with ammonia that many pigs develop lesions on their lungs.

Female breeding pigs are put into what are called gestation crates, where they are artificially inseminated. They give birth, then are inseminated time and time again; and when they can longer get pregnant, they’re slaughtered.

We could go on. But it is not necessary to become a vegetarian to change what we eat to consume fewer animals, which is probably healthier anyway.

What happened to Harambe was a catastrophe, but one so rare as to be almost unprecedented. The treatment of so many millions of animals raised for food can be just business as usual.

6 thoughts on “If Gorilla’s Death Moves You, Consider Other Animals’ Plights

  1. While the Internet exploded in anger and sadness over Harambe’s death, some people expressed equal indignation that an animal should be the object of such passion. We have been reminded that animals do not have immortal souls, that they are not made in the image of God, that they are inferior to human beings, and that they do not merit the attention or calls for justice that belong to human beings alone.

    There is the inevitable comparison of the death of Harambe with the war in Syria or the war in the streets of America. What is lacking from the comparison is that fact that the same species, H. sapiens, is the also same one turning animals like Harambe into endangered species by hunting them, killing them, and destroying or confiscating their habitat. Those that claim no similar attention to human beings are forgetting the protests in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Chicago.
    Yet this is not the first time we have seen the same anger and the calls for justice.

    There was Marius, the giraffe in the Denmark zoo who was killed, publicly dissected, and fed to the big cats for the crime of not having the genetic profile desired by conservationists and thus was considered surplus, unneeded.

    There was Cecil, the lion lured out of a protected game park by an American dentist and killed because he desired a trophy.

    Missing from the dialog are the nameless billions who suffer and die on factory farms, on transport trucks, and in slaughterhouses, along with the animals who perish in labs, fur farms, the wilderness during hunting season, and in shelters because they are “surplus” like Marius.

    And now Harambe. He, like the others with names, is a symbol of a kind of a culture clash, a change in the perception and attitudes toward the other lives we share this earth with. As we learn more about these other species, along with their lives and special abilities, we are questioning our right to exploit and abuse them. But the culture clash also raises discomforting questions about long-held religious views over human supremacy and our God-given power over other animals. It threatens economic interests. And now it generates its own retaliatory anger and shaming to Harambe’s story.

    So where to now . . . . The gorilla exhibition is open again. Harambe is gone from this earth forever. But we can remember him every time we refuse to diminish animal lives and work to stop the everyday cruelty thoughtlessly inflicted on them. That can be Harambe’s legacy. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.

    • Yes, it’s shocking to read this stuff. Even if it were true, where does it say it means the right to abuse and harm them? And people do care about stopping gun violence, but leadership does nothing but support the right to bear arms. I can’t miss an opportunity to add I support the right to arm bears. :).

      • I have a sign in the window that says I support the right to arm bears. The mail carrier and a couple delivery guys get a big kick out of it. Next to it is a non-
        hunting licence from New Jersey from a group trying to stop bear hunting. Being right next door to Idaho I never know who might take offense, and I don’t care.

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