More Crap About The Gorilla

harambe the gorilla

Maybe you’ve had more than enough of the gorilla story. If so, I fault your limited imagination.

There is so much here! It’s a story so rich in metaphor and allegory and philosophical questions about parenthood, ethics, and humanity.

Just sticking to the facts, it is awful. Let me quote an essay in The Guardian by Ian Redmond:

Harambe is a KiSwahili word meaning “pull together” – a good name for a gorilla because gorillas live in stable family groups and they do look out for one another. Over the past 40 years I have had the good fortune to spend hundreds of hours in the company of gorillas in their natural habitat. Most of them were habituated – that is, used to, human observers with an understanding of gorilla etiquette – but misunderstandings sometimes occur. I have been charged by a nervous female who thought I was too close to a member of her group, a blackback (adolescent) male who I was filming feeding; I have been walloped and bowled over by boisterous blackbacks, treating me just like one of the family, and on occasion, been on the receiving end of defensive silverbacks giving their awe-inspiring screaming charge. But I’ve never been hurt by a gorilla.

Well, that makes me feel sad. This makes me feel sadder:

Clearly if a silverback wanted to kill a child, he could do so in an instant. But he didn’t. It would seem that the danger was more to do with whether the boy might bang his head on a rock while being dragged.

There were other possible outcomes. In two other incidents where children have fallen into zoo gorilla enclosures (Jersey in 1986 and Chicago in 1996) neither the gorillas nor the children died. It is cogent to examine the specifics of each case before drawing conclusions about this one.

Redmond suggests interventions other than killing the gorilla, like distracting him with his favorite food. And he doesn’t have a word of criticism for the boy’s mother.

Here’s a question though. Why didn’t the mother jump in to save her child? It was only a 15 foot drop. What’s her fucking problem? I haven’t been put to the test personally, and I have been stupid enough to take my eyes off my young children. But I have no doubt that I’d do more than stand there and yell, “Mommy’s here!”

On the other hand, how many random kids is one majestic gorilla worth?

I say random because I don’t include my own kids. Just being hypothetical here. An innocent gorilla, born into captivity with no choices at all. A member of an endangered species whose lifespan should be 35 to 40 years, killed because some bitch thinks the zoo is a playground for toddlers.

I don’t know what would satisfy my distress about the gorilla. I have seen a gorilla in captivity and even that is distressing beyond words.

Let’s move along into metaphor.

Are we not all gorillas in captivity? We’re stuck here, minding our own business, trying to make the most of our situations, and some happenstance that is not of our making comes along to freak us out or confuse us and no one asks us how we want to proceed.

Maybe some of us are zookeepers, acting in fear without empathy.

Or maybe we’re impulsive, selfish little kids, fucking shit up for others because we want a little thrill.

Or – and here I’m probably revealing too much – maybe we’re all stupid fat mothers who can’t protect our kids because we’re just not equipped for the job.

To support one of the charities helping protect gorillas in Africa visit and click on gorilla. And visit Gorilla Doctors.




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11 Responses to More Crap About The Gorilla

  1. David Duff says:

    Perhaps someone should look more closely at the design and construction of zoo enclosures!

  2. Sister Wolf says:

    David – Absolutely, yes! But I think they should place the primates and elephants, at least, in a more natural environment, if they can’t function back in the wild.

  3. Merri Ferrell says:

    Zoo and (somewhat less consequential) museum barriers have been looked at very closely, David Duff. You can’t imagine the many hours are spent on these topics. Zoos, museums and nature centers have several roles, among them being educational and how that is defined is largely imposed on them by parents and the “thought leaders” who have decided no one can learn unless they are directly or seemingly “interacting” with what is displayed. There has been pressure, often against the better judgement of the caretakers of animals (and artifacts) to open the space for “engagement.” (Now museum educators are called “engagement specialists.” On the one hand, it is good for an animal to have something that resembles its habitat so it does not go insane but everyone knows it is a far cry from actual territory. But a more open natural habitat makes the public feel good about their experience, regardless of how the animal feels. And (if you watch commercials or FB videos) we have far too many images of little kids giving a lion a high five or rolling around with a baby elephant to understand the dynamics of interacting with a wild animal, on how to read its cues. People come to zoos and scream. This is not something you could do in the wild. All of the animals would (rightfully) run away. We should not be swimming with dolphins. Getting over the barrier to get into the gorilla’s exhibition habitat was not an easy matter. This was not like tripping over a crack in the sidewalk. It took effort and time. If zoos returned to their more secure and restricted enclosures to protect their specimens from curious children not watched by inattentive parents, everyone would yowl. Then we get to the question of “why zoos?” I fall back on John Berger’s “Why Look at Animals” (About Looking) but the sad fact is, esp. for gorillas, bush meat, war zones in habitats, poaching for “Chinese medicine” (unstoppable), loss of habitat because the gorillas just happen to live where people are busy killing each other.

  4. David Duff says:

    Also, I just don’t get it with zoos. In this day and age of wild life films available on all media, what’s the point. You go and stare at a gorilla, and he stares back at you. The conversation is abysmal!

  5. Marya says:

    I hate zoos. I will never go back to one! And your post makes me so sad. Dont you think it’s an illusion that we can protect our children or gorillas. most of us are doing the best we can and holding our breath and making deals with God we don’t believe in. And blaming ourselves for everything. Right?

  6. Sister Wolf says:

    Marya – Yes and yes. The whole thing is very precarious. xxoo

  7. Sister Wolf says:

    Merri – Thank you, your comment should be required reading.

    Kim – Going to look now!

  8. Sister, such a great post. I loved reading the comments. Agreed about Merri’s insight. Zoos, circuses, all very sad. As George Carlin said, “The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas.”

  9. Kellie says:

    Sister, your sons death wasnt your fault. Not your failure to protect him. Not your failure to know what he was thinking. Nothing. Which is easy for me to say, and I dont want to sound condescending or mean. I am trying to out my thoughts in writing.

    You couldnt save your son, because you didnt know what he was thinking, or considering. Or you would have stopped him.

    This “mother” at the zoo heard her child say “I wanna go and play with the gorilla” or whatever. Somehow she didnt see him climbing up over the railing, up over the bushes, and jumping down. She wasnt paying any attention to him. Neither was anyone else, apparently.

    You would have seen your son on that hedge and grabbed his shirt. He wouldnt have fallen.
    You arent neglectful. You just arent.
    And I am so sorry for your loss, always.

  10. Sister Wolf says:

    Suzanne Meyers – Ha, I didn’t know that quote but I like it. I believe the planet is making its move, starting with all the tornadoes, floods, and record-breaking heatwaves.

    Kellie – Thank you for your concern and kindness. I would have stopped him if I could.

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