Last week, a tragedy occurred. And no, I’m not talking about Harambe, the renown gorilla who died while attempting to save the life of a child (or so the story goes). I’m talking about the son of Michelle Gregg, the little boy who could have lost his life at the hands of an adult male gorilla. The fact that we are not celebrating the continuance of this boy’s life is an absolute tragedy. The fact that we would rather berate this poor mother for her bad parenting, or condemn the zoo’s employees for choosing to kill the gorilla over tranquilizing it, is an absolute tragedy.
Here are the definitive facts of the case. A mother lost sight of her child for a minimum of two seconds- that’s all the time the three-year-old child needed to disappear. He slipped through the bars of the gorilla exhibit, and was promptly grabbed by an adult male gorilla who dragged him through water and over concrete. The gorilla was shot, killing him, and the child was returned to his mother. In the aftermath, the mob of sudden gorilla rights advocates demanded that everyone involved- the mother, her three-year-old son, the zoo employees, and the zoo owner- needed to be punished for their part in the death of an innocent zoo animal. Only a select few men and women publicly supported the actions of the zoo employee tasked with shooting the wild animal, though it should be noted that supporters included animal experts such as Jack Hanna. Their opinions were largely drowned out by the cries for justice for Harambe- cries that went so far as to advocate saving the life of the gorilla, even if it meant the death of the child, because a gorilla is a more “hopeful breeding specimen” than a human person- as if a gorilla’s life could trump the life of a human child in any circumstance.
Before I continue, let me set the record straight. I think it’s unfortunate that Harambe was killed, but I also think that it was the right choice. I would not want to kill a gorilla, but if the choice between killing a gorilla and potentially killing a child was set before me, I would choose to kill the gorilla every time- not because I hate gorillas, but because a human child has more intrinsic value than a gorilla. Gorillas are God’s creation, sure, but only humans are made in the image and likeness of God, and that sets us apart. That means that our lives are of inestimable value. That makes us the perpetual winner when man faces beast. If there is even the slightest chance that a child will be harmed at the hands of an animal, the death of that animal might be the only option. When that little boy escaped the watchful eye of his mother and slipped into the gorilla cage, there was only one option: save the boy. Even if it meant killing the gorilla.
And according to the opinions of both experts and numerous onlookers, killing Harambe was the only option. There have been claims that the gorilla might have been trying to protect the boy, and that might be true, but even if that was the gorilla’s intention, he was still harming the child. If Harambe’s intention really was to help the boy, he was failing. He dragged the little boy through water, and the child suffered a concussion when his head repeatedly smacked against the concrete ground of the gorilla’s enclosure. Even if Harambe was trying to save the boy, his actions were nonetheless bringing only harm to him. At this point, the gorilla’s intention is beside the point; Harambe could have killed him.
It doesn’t matter what, if anything, was going through Harambe’s head. He could have harmed, even killed, the little boy. The zoo employee who shot the gorilla did the only thing that he could- he shot a dangerous animal to ensure that a child could be brought to safety. While a tranquilizer might have been the ideal solution, according to experts, it wasn’t an option at the time. In the time that it would have taken the tranquilizer to take effect, the boy could have been killed. Michelle Gregg’s son could have died. I’d rather have a dead gorilla over a dead child on my conscience any day.
The zoo employee was not to blame. He acted according to the guidelines that had been outlined for him before Harambe was brought to live in the Cincinnati Zoo. Months, if not years, before this tragedy occurred, animal experts outlined several “worst case scenario” responses. When a child gets himself caught in the gorilla exhibit and he can’t be safely removed without endangering other lives, you shoot the gorilla. End of story.
If we’re going to blame someone from the zoo, we might want to consider this question: how did the Cincinnati Zoo come to have an animal enclosure that enabled a three-year-old boy to slip inside? If we’re going to get up in arms about something in the wake of this tragedy, we should fight for safer zoos. Because let’s face it, a mother is bound to lose sight of her child from time to time. Children can get themselves into trouble in no time at all. You sneeze, and they’ve hidden behind a clothing rack while you’re shopping at Target. You bend over to clean up your child’s spilled milk, and they’re trying to shove their crayons up their nose. You turn your head in response to a loud bang at the zoo, and when you look down, your three-year-old is no longer standing by your side. You turn around at the sound of panicked cries, and you realize that he’s standing inside the gorilla enclosure. By the time you make it to the front of the mob that has formed in front of the exhibit, he’s being dragged though water and over concrete. And before you know it, the gorilla is dead, and your son has been returned to your arms, sobbing hysterically and suffering from a concussion. Michelle Gregg does not deserve to be tormented by the hysterical mob. She does not need to hear that she’s an awful mother, or that her son should have died instead of the gorilla. Here’s the reality: I’m sure that Mrs. Gregg has tortured herself over it all more than enough, and she does not need additional persecution. I’m sure that she can’t close her eyes without seeing her son in that cage during the day, and that she can’t sleep without reliving this nightmare over and over in her dreams. I’m sure that Mrs. Gregg has suffered enough after being publicly ridiculed for a mistake that every parent with a walking child will probably make at some point in their lives. It could have been anyone- people lose track of their children every day- but everyone is just glad that it wasn’t them.
I also know this: we live in a very backwards, screwed up society if we would advocate the death of a human person over an animal. But as G.K. Chesterton wrote, “wherever there is animal worship, there is human sacrifice.” A society that aims to treat animals with the same worth as human beings will inevitably treats its human beings like animals, or more accurately, like something that has even less worth than an animal. If we treated humans the way that we want to treat animals, we might actually improve our society. We might respect human life more. We might fight for human persons in all phases of life, from womb to tomb, as they say. But I can only say that because we have it all backwards. Yes, animals, as God’s creation, should be treated with respect, but human persons, as the high point of creation and the only creature created in the image and likeness of God, need to be treated as such. Every creature should be treated justly according to the dignity that God has bestowed on them, but sometimes that means that we must sacrifice the animal to ensure the life of the human person.
In ideal circumstances, such a sacrifice would not have been necessary, but we do not live in a perfect world. We live in a world where children can disappear in the blink of an eye. We live in a world where bars are tight enough to keep in the gorilla, but not always tight enough to keep out the curious child. We live in a world where sometimes the only option is killing a gorilla to ensure that a child does not come to harm, or worse. So in the end, nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter that the gorilla might have had good intentions (he was already hurting the boy). It doesn’t matter that a tranquilizer could have prevented the death of the gorilla (he could have harmed the boy further, or killed him, before he was adequately subdued). It doesn’t matter that Michelle Gregg lost track of her son for less than a minute, making her a less-than-perfect mother (we all are, after all). All that matters is that a human life was at stake and that there was a way to save him. All that matters is that a child needed to be saved, a child needed to be rescued and returned to the loving arms of his anxious mother. That’s all that matters, and that’s exactly what happened. For that reason, this tragedy was transformed into the happiest ending possible, even if it wasn’t the happiest ending imaginable.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!