Harambe pays for poor parenting?

Parenting took a lot of flack in the media last week.

My previous post was about the Japanese parents who left their boy in a forest as a punishment. This post is about another victim of poor parenting. You have probably heard about the tragic death of the endangered silverback gorilla. Harambe was shot dead at the Cincinnati Zoo when he interacted with a 3 year-old boy who fell into the gorilla enclosure, as officials feared for the child’s safety.

Harambe, the 17 year-old silverback gorilla
Harambe, the 17 year-old silverback gorilla

The media and internet have gone ballistic about the incident – bringing to the fore the divide between animal activists and, to put it dramatically, the rest of the world. Another thing that was clearly highlighted was the immediate blame-fest that was started against the zoo and the parents.

It is a terrible thing to have happened, without a doubt, and so wasteful. There is more than enough blame to go around. However the bottom line is – whose well-being was more important, a 3 year-old boy’s (one of many) or a 17 year-old gorilla’s (one of fewer than 900 left in the world)? As ‘speciesist’ as it sounds, I do believe the life of the boy was more important, regardless of how critically endangered the poor animal might be.

The incident was not exactly unanticipated, as spectators around the 3-foot wall of the enclosure heard the boy tell his mother that he was going to climb the wall and ‘swim with the gorilla’. Of course, she told him he couldn’t, but in the short window of time when she was distracted by her other children, her son did as he threatened and breached the wall.

Unfortunately, on the other side was a 15-foot drop into the gorilla’s habitat, and the boy fell the great distance and hit his head. Harambe the gorilla came up to him, dragged him away across the small stream and took him to a corner. Some people at the time saw this as an aggressive move. However, on further examination and expert commentary, it was very possible that the gorilla was protecting the boy from the disturbing screams of the onlookers and from unwanted attention from other gorillas in the enclosure. The boy seemed quite calm with the great animal, and at one time the gorilla is actually seen holding hands with him.

All of this makes what happened even more tragic. Fearing that tranquilisers might take too long to work and possibly aggravate the animal, as would attempts to take the boy away the decision was made to put the animal down. The tragedy of this is that Harambe had to pay the ultimate price, though doing nothing wrong and possibly even trying to protect the child.

People quite harshly commented that the gorilla seemed more protective of the boy than his own mother, who allowed him the chance to climb over the completely inadequate barrier that could be breached by a 3 year-old. Petitions have been signed to hold the parents and the zoo accountable for carelessness that caused Harambe’s death, and it is possible the authorities will do just that.

Children will try to climb over anything
Children will try to climb over anything

If my blog post yesterday was about purposefully too-strict parenting, today’s in contrast is about possibly careless parenting. The mother was not paying enough attention to her child in a public and dangerous place, and did not have enough of a physical hold on him, especially after he threatened to climb the wall. This was an undisciplined child and an inadequate mother, says most of social media. However true this might be, it might also be true that it was merely one of those situations where human beings are fallible and parents, being human, are not perfect. Most parents have had those heart-stopping moments where you think you have lost sight of your child, or let go of their hand for a minute and turned to find them gone. People are even wondering if toddlers and young children should be leashed in public, like dogs!

Good parenting is hard, though not impossible. The incident brings back into the spotlight the lack of tools most parents have to discipline their children. There is no doubt that the mother could have kept a better watch on her young child, but mistakes happen. There is no doubt that the zoo should have tried to minimise the risk to spectators and better protect the animals that were in its care. There is no doubt that Harambe’s untimely death was a tragedy, the latest incident in the human-wildlife conflict that does not look like stopping anytime soon.

However, be honest, if you are are/were a parent and it was your child in that enclosure, what would you want? Hindsight is 20/20 and social media has become a shaming revolution (http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/dec/20/social-media-twitter-online-shame) and this week the blame game has set its sights firmly on parents. I wonder who will be next.