It’s a little serendipitous how things seem to happen in waves, isn’t it?
It has been little over a month since we learned of the untimely passing of Stacey Kornwiser, the Palm Beach Zoo employee known as the ‘Tiger Whisperer’ who perished after a freak encounter with a captive Asian tiger with which she worked. The story quickly became viral online and through the television media outlets, sparking debate over zoo procedure and appropriate zoo employee handling of captive animals.
This week tragedy struck again, except this time the captive animal was the one who perished.
A 17-year-old Silverback Gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo known as ‘Harambe’ had to be put down by zoo staff acting in accordance with emergency protocols last Saturday. At approx. 4pm on that day, witnesses reported seeing a young boy, age 3 or 4, climbing over and through the enclosure’s security fencing. After reaching the interior of the enclosure, the young boy fell 10-15 feet into a shallow moat surrounding the exhibit. Almost immediately, famed and adored Silverback Gorilla ‘Harambe’ rushed over to the boy. Witnesses say it appeared the Silverback Gorilla was attempting to protect the young child, at first. The situation was quickly noticed by other zoo patrons, and zoo staff was alerted. Once the situation was realized, witnesses say the screams and cries of onlookers spooked the 400-plus-pound male gorilla. He then began violently dragging the boy to a secluded corner of the enclosure.
Onlookers were quickly ushered away from the area, and a few minutes later, reports of shots fired were called in by zoo patrons. In a statement later, Cincinnati Zoo staff alerted the public that they had acted in accordance with safety protocols and had put down Harambe with a single shot from a long rifle. The boy was soon pulled from the enclosure and rushed to the local hospital. Reports are conflicting on the status of the boy’s injuries, but he was discharged from the hospital a day later to be with his family.
Like the tiger incident at the Palm Beach Zoo, the story of the little boy and Harambe quickly went viral online and through television media channels. Also mirroring the consequences of the Palm Beach Zoo incident, outrage and ire was suddenly spurned, seemingly, from all sides. Organizations like the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) were outraged that Harambe was killed in the incident, citing caution, not reaction, as the appropriate course of action, instead. A Facebook page entitled ‘Justice for Harambe’ was quickly set up, and a petition to change current legislation to further protect animals such as Harambe has been submitted. At this writing, the petition has over 155,000 signatures.
Still more ire and outrage is aimed at the child’s parents. Many are saying the child was not properly supervised, and therefore was afforded the opportunity to get into trouble. The parents have responded, saying they made a horrible mistake, but would never leave their child completely unattended. It will be many more months – and many more court battles – before it is determined who was in the right, or wrong.
It’s a tough call for zoo employees to make, putting down an animal they have lived to conserve and protect for so long. Maybe parents need a wakeup call when it comes to supervision. More likely the zoo(s) may need a security upgrade to their decades-old infrastructure. Or even further still, the protocols and procedures of zoo staff may also need a 20th-century upgrade. No matter the determination, most big-hit stories such as this one come in threes.
So far only two instances have arisen, but no one wants to see another zoo staff member, patron, or captive animal perish due to extreme adverse circumstances.