Or, am I?

*   *   *

Department Of Not Ignoring The 800 Lb Gorilla In The Room

That would be the 450 lb gorilla named Harambe, an endangered silverback who is no longer in the room (at the Cincinnati Zoo). As you’ve probably heard by now, Harambe was shot and killed last week by zookeepers to protect a three-four year old [1] boy who had somehow climbed under a rail, through wires and over a moat wall to get into the gorilla’s enclosure.

Visitors. Guests. The Public  whatever you call them (that is, us), zoological parks, National and State Parks and wilderness preserves and  animal conservancies couldn’t exist without them.  And, as any park employee [2] can tell you, the most dangerous animals to be found at such preserves are the humans.

 

 

zoo1

 

 

MH and I have been members of the Oregon Zoo for a long time. Both our son K and daughter Belle were active in the ZooTeens program and other zoo internships, service and educational programs for 5+ years. Through our membership level, our own years of attending the zoo, and our kids’ involvement with some amazing mentors, we’ve been privy to behind-the-scenes info and stories from zoo staff and volunteers…which is leading up to this: you wouldn’t believe the crazy, stupid, irresponsible (and sometimes just plain malicious) shit some people will pull.

Take this story, of the Very Tall Dad who, holding his infant daughter in his arms, pushed through shrubbery to get as close as he could to the railing guarding the concrete moat surrounding the tiger enclosure. While his wife aimed her camera at him, VTD stretched his very long arms out as far as he could to make it appear as if he were dangling his baby above the tiger enclosure.

I heard about this from zoo employee ZE, a much-loved mentor to many ZooTeens. The afternoon this debacle-in-the-making unfolded, ZE happened to be walking by the tiger enclosure on her way another area of the zoo. She quickly approached the parents and pointed out that they were endangering both the tigers and their child. The parents were shocked out of their astonishing act of idiocy by the reality check from ZE, and thanked her accordingly:

Oh my goodness, you are so right, and we are so sorry! We were thoughtless and acted rashly, and set a bad example for other parents and children, and put you in an awkward situation. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

 

 

REALLY

 

 

Of course they didn’t. Snap out of it!

The actual reaction: the father glared at ZE and snarled, Fuck you as he and his equally white trash negligent immature partner wife scurried away.

Over my two decades plus of zoo-going, I’ve received similar responses from The General Public ®  when I’ve kindly yet firmly pointed out to people that their children were climbing over/under barriers (not into animal enclosures, but barriers meant to keep people on the trail and not trample plant habitats) or tossing their litter into animal habitats or pounding their hands against terrarium walls or shrieking in front of enclosures (in defiance of signs clearly pointing out that the animal inhabitants were sensitive to loud noises) or otherwise yelling/roaring at/taunting the animals [3]….

 

 

zoo2

 

So. We have the template, of both intentional and unintentional negligence and even willful harm, that is part of what happens when you have people at zoos.  [4] And then, there are the accidents. A kid got away from his mom, somehow got into an animal enclosure, and a beloved, valuable member of a highly endangered species is dead.

Social media is doing what social media does: casting blame, seemingly without pausing for a moment’s reflection, and abetting what has become our new national pastime. Why pay $ for tickets to a baseball game when you can, for free and in the comfort of your own living room, shame/vilify/judge the parenting skills of other people? The parents should be brought up on child endangerment charges/shot and skinned and their hides sold and the money donated to endangered gorilla/wildlife  reserves….

 

 

Yet another thoughtful rumination.

Yet another thoughtful rumination.

 

 

My Unofficial Survey On The Matter ®  indicates that most people commenting online on the matter are blaming the parents (read: mother), while a smaller percentage fault the zoo for not having a foolproof enclosure: …it could be argued that she (the boy’s mother) surely trusted the zoo to have an enclosure that was childproof.”

And I surely trusted that most people who have the slightest familiarity with children doubled over with thigh-slapping laughter after reading that statement.

 

 

 

CAMEL

 

 

 

An enclosure that was childproof.  I made no such assumption when I took my kids to the zoo, or anywhere, for that matter – even to another family’s home. [5] There is not an enclosure in the world that is childproof, or (adult) human willful stupidity-proof.

It seems there is the opportunity every day, skimming through the news, for us read about the consequences of the human propensity for doing stupid things/not paying attention/thinking “it won’t happen to me.”  Yet, like most blowholes concerned citizens ruminating over this tragic affair, I wasn’t there. Thus, I can only imagine how the tragedy unfolded…and, of course, cast hindsight judgments about what zoo officials should or shouldn’t have done, and what the gorilla would or wouldn’t do, after viewing the one video that has surfaced.

What with our Selfie Society, wherein everyone is seemingly documenting every minute of their noteworthy lives, there’s got to be another shaky cellphone  recording of the incident (or a zoo security videocam) that might shed more light on the situation. Until that or other accounts surface, we’ve only a few bystander reports, including the story of A woman who witnessed the boy’s fall said she heard the youngster say he wanted to get in the water with the gorillas. She said the boy’s mother was with several other young children and told him no.

There will continue to be a crap-ton of second, third, and twentieth guessings: the mother will be blamed (perhaps, rightfully) for not noticing the boy signaling his intent to get into the enclosure and/or for her negligent parenting skills (who is responsible for the fact that her son obviously didn’t take her “no” seriously?!?!!?), while others will point out the naiveté and willfulness of a three year old.  And, seriously folks, what parents reasonably suspect that toddlers will follow through on every desire they express? “Mommy, I wanna play with the gorilla” does not immediately translate into the almost unthinkable, Uh oh, this means my kid is going to run away from me and find a way to get into that gorilla enclosure.

The parents of the boy aren’t talking (as of this writing), except for releasing a statement through a public relations firm – a statement that froze my butt, almost as much as the whole incident itself:

“We are so thankful to the Lord that our child is safe. He is home and doing just fine. We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff…”

 

Typical.

 

 

epicurious

 

 

The parents thanked their imaginary friend – for what? For apparently picking his holy nose while their child scrambled away from his mother and somehow got up/over/under barriers and fell into the gorilla enclosure? They thanked their “lord” for their boy’s safety, a “lord” who did nothing while the gorilla alternately (arguably) protected the boy and dragged him around the enclosure [6]?  What, pray tell,  [7] exactly, did that lord do to deserve thanks? Did their deity magically/invisibly aim the gun that the heartbroken keepers used to kill the gorilla – a beloved creature mourned by his caretakers as “a gentle giant” and “like a member of the family” –  in order to protect the errant toddler from his own folly and/or parental negligence?

Once again, I digress.

Look. The parenting thing: I’ve been “there,” and it is truly amazing, even frightening, how quickly a child can apparently vanish when you do the proverbial turn your head just for a moment to check on something.

But – you knew there was going to be a but, didn’t you? – I’ve also been to and witnessed the other “there.” I’ve seen the there where parents turn their heads for way more than for a moment –the there where parents carelessly and sometimes seemingly deliberately focus their attention elsewhere, and/or expect others to pick up their slack.

;

As animal expert Jeff Corwin put it, “the zoo is not your babysitter.” And, I would add, also not your babysitter is the candy aisle of the grocery store, the video and electronics section of Costco, the furniture section of the department store…nor any of the other public places and/or employees I’ve seen parents use as virtual/free childcare. Including the doctor’s office. [8]  [9]

 

*   *   *

May we all be accountable for our actions;
May we also be understanding of lapses in judgment and other human frailties;
May we work to ensure that empathetic humans are not an endangered species;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

 

 

[1] I have read conflicting reports as to the boy’sage.

[2] If you know them well enough and can get them alone/willing to speak off the record.

[3] This seems to be, in my experience, largely the territory of late adolescent/early adult young males who, when they get near the larger felines, bears and or other predator species, are trying to prove…what are they trying to prove?

[4] Or at the DMV, for that matter.

[5] I was One Of Those Parents © who asked other parents, when my kids were going to their house for the first time, if they had firearms in the house (and if so, how/where are they stored) and if there were cigarette smokers in the house (smokers tend to leave matches and lighters around, and every small child is an inherent firebug).

[6] Depending on which animal behavior expert’s interpretation you read.

[7] On second thought, ignore the expression. Don’t pray, just tell.

[8] “Oh, I can bring him in the room with me and you can just watch him for a bit, can’t you?” Sure, lady, it’ll be no problem for me to use my other four hands to restrain your child while I’m prepping the pap smear slide for the doctor who is PERFORMING YOUR PELVIC EXAM.

[9] Yes, that scenario has happened to me, and more than once, during my former reincarnation as a women’s reproductive health care assistant.