The Cincinnati Zoo Gorilla Tragedy Has Started a Mom-Shaming Mob

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Harambe the gorilla.
Harambe the gorilla.Photo: Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden/Facebook

Taking a horrific situation and making it worse is something people on the internet excel at, and this Memorial Day weekend has been no exception. On Saturday, in front of a horrified crowd, zoo officials shot and killed a beloved 17-year-old gorilla named Harambe, after a 4-year-old boy climbed under a fence and fell almost 20 feet into the habitat where the giant apes live.

The boy was unharmed from both the fall and the gorilla, who dragged him through a foot of water at one point. There was no indication that the gorilla wanted to harm the child, but — knowing the strength of the animal — zoo officials decided the boy was in critical danger. Worried that tranquilizers would take too long to be effective, they made the decision to shoot and kill the gorilla.

Animal lovers and activists from all over the world have reacted with outrage. A change.org petition calling for charges of criminal negligence against the parents has obtained more than 340,000 signatures. The zoo has said it has no plans to charge anyone.

There is more than enough blame to go around in this situation, which is clearly tragic for the gorillas, who live in captivity and are endangered in the wild. The fact that it was killed is sad, but, in the eyes of the zoo, it was unavoidable in the moment. The zoo’s director, Thane Maynard, said in a press conference, “We’re talking about an animal that I’ve seen crush a coconut with one hand.”

Though some have jumped to blame the zoo for shooting Harambe, most blame has focused on the mother of the child, who has not been officially identified. After internet commenters on Facebook, Twitter, and thousands of news sites jumped to criticize and charge her with negligence, a woman who identified herself as the mother of the child posted on Facebook in an effort to defend herself:

“What started out as a wonderful day turned into a scary one … My son is safe and was able to walk away with a concussion and a few scrapes … no broken bones or internal injuries … As a society we are quick to judge how a parent could take their eyes of their child and if anyone knows me I keep a right watch on my kids. Accidents happen but I am thankful that the right people were in the right place today.” Her post was flooded with comments and her Facebook account is now deactivated.

The comments range from judgements on the mother’s parenting skills to things such as “u should’ve been shot,” as reported by the Washington Post. A “Justice for Harambe” page, which has more than 100,000 “likes” flaunts a cornucopia of horrific commentary. “Cincinnati has more than enough spoiled 4 year olds with parents who don’t watch over their children! We only had 1 Harambe! The gorilla was worth more than the stupid kid!” writes Bonnie Evers of Cincinnati; “They are trying to cover up that the child’s life was never in danger from the gorilla,” wrote Dave Mcnemar, of Maryland, inexplicably. “Zoos aren’t your babysitters,” is a fairly common sentiment floating around. The Daily Mail reported that the child’s father has a “lengthy criminal history,” as if that were germane to any of this.

That’s correct: Zoos are not babysitters! But one would hope that even in the event of a child breaking away from his parents, we could expect that the enclosure would be safely insulated enough that he wouldn’t end up inside of it. The zoo does report that in the 38 years of the gorilla exhibit’s existence, this is the first time it has ever been breached. And many who were at the site when this took place reported that the mother was frantically looking for the boy, who very quickly got inside the exhibit and fell inside the habitat.

The days to come will undoubtedly find the zoo’s officials searching for answers and probably making changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again. In the meantime, people on the internet continue to believe that there is no such thing as a blameless situation.