Several years ago, an intoxicated man snuck into the Calgary Zoo after hours and climbed into the Siberian tiger enclosure. The man scaled a 15 foot fence, complete with barbed wire, and then jumped over the second safety fence so that he was directly next to the tiger enclosure. The startled tiger snagged the man's arm with his claw, which resulted in a loss of that arm.
Now there are warning signs all over the zoo, informing people not to climb over fences into the enclosures. This is something that should be obvious but, as shown by the effort put in by the now-one-armed-man, is not.
That man had to work very hard to do something so ridiculous. Scaling a 15 foot barbed wire fence is not an easy task. It is certainly not something a child could do, nor is it something anyone who is thinking properly would do.
Now let's fast forward to the Memorial Day weekend, at the Cincinnati Zoo, where a young boy fell into the gorilla enclosure after scaling a three-foot-high fence and pushing through about four feet of bushes. A three foot high fence is something many children can scale. A small child can squeeze through bushes. This is what happened, and the result was that a gorilla was shot and died.
I cannot begin to describe how sad this makes me. The fact that Harambe the gorilla, a beautiful and intelligent animal, was killed for behaving like a gorilla, in a situation that was not his fault, in an enclosure should be there for his comfort and safety but that is ultimately there for the entertainment of others, is a tragedy. Does this mean that I am prioritizing animal life over human life? No. Do I know what would have been a better solution? I am not a primatologist. I was not there. Even if I was, it is irrelevant. It's done and it's over and it's terribly sad. It is an incredible tragedy that I cannot help but feel could be prevented by better safety fencing, I say from thousands of miles away.
But what about the parents, you say. The safety fencing should not be a factor if the parents had been doing their job. Good parents would not allow this to happen, you say, and to that, I say maybe. Maybe the parents should have kept a better eye on the child, or maybe should have had one of those leashes on his wrist, or maybe should have had him wrapped up in a bubble, I don't know. I do know this: sometimes we as parents look away for a moment. Sometimes we sneeze and in that five seconds our child is doing something we do not want them to do. Sometimes we tie our shoe, assist our other children with a snack, or zone out with exhaustion.
A decade ago I was walking through the Calgary Zoo with my children. My two year-old was walking, holding onto the side of the double stroller, the way I had taught him to. My one year-old started fussing in the stroller and I bent down to see what was wrong. I adjusted his blanket, gave him a kiss, and when I straightened up my two year-old was gone. He was gone. I looked at the crowd of people ahead of and behind me and I started screaming his name. I began running with the stroller to find him, asking people if they had seen him, in an unintelligible voice crazed with panic. I found him, and he was safe.
But I had only looked away for a moment.
He was safe.
I have this crazy idea that places that cater to families and children - such as playgrounds, parks, and zoos - should be safe for children. They should be safe, should a parent be so negligent as to look away for a moment, should a parent be so negligent as to not have their child leashed to their person, should a parent be so negligent as to have other children that may need to be attended to. As a society, a place that is popular with children and families should be a place that it is not easy to put a child into a life and death situation. It should not be easy for a child to climb or fall into an enclosure with a wild animal, no matter what that parent is doing.
And so this situation makes me terribly sad. It breaks my heart that a gorilla is dead, but it also breaks my heart that as a society, we feel the need to crucify because of it. It breaks my heart that there is a lack of compassion on all sides, and that some of us feel that it could never happen to us, because we are good parents who would never let this happen.
There is no winner in this situation, there is only tragedy.