As most everyone knows by now, on Saturday May 28th, a 4-year-old boy visiting the Cincinnati Zoo fell into the enclosure of a 400-pound gorilla named Harambe. After a harrowing few minutes, the zoo’s dangerous animal response unit decided the boy was in “a life-threatening situation” and made the wise decision to protect his life by putting the gorilla down.
As zoo director Thane Maynard so aptly noted, "We are heartbroken about losing Harambe, but a child's life was in danger and a quick decision had to be made."
Not surprisingly, public reaction hasn’t been so rational. From a petition by Change.org demanding that the boy’s parents be held accountable, to articles about how the other gorillas in the zoo will suffer from depression, to PETA calling for a boycott of all zoos, the angry chorus of critics have focused not on the boy’s life but on the gorilla’s, clearly placing the latter over the former.
Make no mistake; losing a magnificent creature like Harambe is both tragic and regrettable. Nevertheless, it is heartening that the zookeepers understood that the boy’s life mattered more.
As awe inspiring as silverback gorillas are, it’s naïve to assume that Harambe possessed some measure of human morality that would’ve kept him from harming this little child. At the end of the day, he was a wild animal who reacted instinctually, not morally, as his terrifying act of dragging the boy through the enclosure’s stream made clear.
As gorilla expert Amanda O'Donoughue noted on her Facebook page, “I have watched this video over again, and with the silverback's posturing, and tight lips, it's pretty much the stuff of any keeper's nightmares…I keep hearing that the gorilla was trying to protect the boy. I do not find this to be true. Harambe reaches for the boy’s hands and arms, but only to position the child better for his own displaying purposes.
Males do very elaborate displays when highly agitated, slamming and dragging things about.”
As helpful as it is to gain understanding into why the zoo made their decision, it bears repeating that the crux of the issue is not discerning the gorilla’s intent but deciding that the boy’s life could not be risked.
Nevertheless, the public’s outrage continues over the lawful and justified shooting of this gorilla, while the rampant taking of human life goes seemingly unnoticed.
According to the Chicago Tribune’s website, on the same Saturday zoo keepers shot Harambe, twenty-seven people were shot in the Chicago area, including five teenagers, the youngest of whom was a fifteen-year-old girl. In the month of May alone, the Tribune reports that fifty-nine people have been murdered in Chicago.
The response? No petitions, no cries for justice, no public demands that those in authority be held accountable, and no articles about how a fifteen-year-old girl’s family will suffer from depression. Why? Because it seems the loudest voices in America clearly don’t treasure the value God assigned to human life.
It’s our hope that the Cincinnati Zoo event will serve as a clarion call for Christians that our “lights” aren’t intended to be hidden under “baskets” but that the Lord implores us all to let them shine (Matthew 5:13-16).
We believe part of being salt and light is that each of us must do our part to reshape a cultural consensus that God values human life so much so that He sacrificed His own Son to save ours. So when friends, neighbors, and coworkers broach the subject of the Cincinnati Zoo incident, we pray you can wisely and winsomely use it as a springboard to remind them of the value God places on human life and the freedom He offers all of us humans through the gospel.