Harambe or the kid? Zoo made right call

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Many have paid their respects to Harambe outside the gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo.
Many have paid their respects to Harambe outside the gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo. AP

The reason Harambe the gorilla died in some ways mirrors the fate of the fictional King Kong: Forced contact with humans led to his demise.

Almost a week after a 4-year-old boy fell into Harambe’s enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and the gorilla was shot dead by zoo staffers, this final solution continues to tug at the national psyche.

The incident reflects hot-button issues that we already deal with across the country: the treatment of animals, parental responsibility and capital punishment. At the heart of the moral dilemma is this question:

Was it necessary to kill the 17-year-old rare and endangered gorilla instead of tranquilizing him with darts?

The answer remains an emphatic Yes, it was.

But the boy’s parents, the zoo officials and even zoos in general have come under fire.

The decision to shoot the gorilla must have been hard, but did not take too long reach. It couldn’t. A human being’s life was in peril, more valuable than that of even a beautiful being like Harambe.

Many wildlife experts say that a dart would have injected even more uncertainty into an already terrifying situation, plus the tranquilizer’s effect would have taken too long.

Those who would second guess, or hesitate on behalf of the gorilla, are wrong.

Since Harambe’s death, there have been demonstrations outside the zoo, there are two social-media petition drives that have attracted almost 1 million people. A Justice for Harambe Facebook page keeps the most passionate updated on the latest news related to the incident.

The zoo said Thursday the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating its actions. The gorilla exhibit had been examined in April, and no violations were noted, the USDA said. The Gorilla World exhibit, closed since the accident, reopens on Tuesday.

Wisely, the zoo already is taking some corrective action. "In light of what happened, we have modified the outer public barrier to the gorilla exhibit to make entry even more difficult" its statement said. They’ve added new barrier railings that are 42 inches high and made of solid wood beams with knotted rope netting.

But the outrage of animal activists is still burning; they want someone to be punished for the death of the 450-pound Harambe.

Some want the mother criminally charged for what they swear is "neglect." That would be ridiculous and cruel. This was an accident that ended in Harambe’s unfortunate death.

The truth is, parents lose track of their children every day — at the park, at the mall, even in their own homes. Most of the time, the child is located, and life goes on. That’s not how it happened this time. But instead of falling into the pool or running into traffic — sadly, considered "routine" accidents — the child at the zoo ended up in Harambe’s enclosure.

One bystander interviewed on television said she ran to grab the boy to keep him from sneaking through the exhibit and dropping 15 feet into the gorilla’s moat. She described the boy’s determination to run past the barriers, a little human missile.

His exuberance to get close to the gorilla ultimately cost Harambe his life, which is a shame. But one look at the gorilla dragging the child through the water in the moat is enough to back up zoo officials’ decision to shoot.

Plus, who can make a persuasive case that the little boy should have been the one who didn’t survive?