The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden came under international scrutiny on May 28, when Harambe, a silverback western lowland gorilla, was shot and killed after a 4-year-old-boy fell into his enclosure. The boy had gotten away from his mother, crawled over a series of fences, and fell over 10 feet into the exhibit's moat.
Harambe quickly approached the boy in the water, standing over him and then dragging him behind as he ran. Occasionally, the gorilla examined the little boy, and can be seen in a video even pulling up the boy's pants.
First things first: The gorilla was not protecting the little boy.
Just because the gorilla didn't immediately attack him doesn't mean it wasn't coming. Unfortunately, the zoo was left with no other choice and had to err on the side of caution. Zookeepers tried baiting the gorilla away with treats, which didn't work. If they had shot him with a tranquilizer dart, it would have taken a few minutes for the full effect to kick in, if Harambe didn't hurt the boy in a fit of rage after being shot in the first place.
While criticizing the choice of the Cincinnati Zoo to kill Harambe, many have referenced Binti Jua, also a western lowland gorilla in a zoo outside of Chicago. In 1996, a 3-year-old boy was knocked unconscious when he fell into her enclosure. Binti swiftly cradled the boy, delivering him to zookeepers for medical treatment.
The death of Harambe is a tragedy, of course, but while the internet has lost its collective mind raging against the zoo for killing an endangered species, it has forgotten to be upset over why Harambe's kind are now so rare.
Cincinatti Zoo And Botanical Garden
Western lowland gorillas are characterized as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List, which is one step up from being extinct in the wild.
While the ebola virus threatens gorillas, habitat destruction and poaching by humans are decimating their numbers. Fewer than 1000 gorillas remain on the planet, up to a 90% reduction from their historical numbers.
Most wild lowland gorillas live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is often mired in human violence and political corruption. The average per capita income is roughly US $485, which makes it difficult for the average citizen to consider conservation a priority, especially when wildlife crime seems like a lucrative option.
Unfortunately, the bulk of conversation is all about placing blame instead of looking at the bigger picture.
Yes, in a perfect world, the boy wouldn't have fallen in the enclosure and Harambe would still be alive. Instead of taking up our pitchforks and relying on angry internet mob justice against the family, why not put that energy toward something that can actually promote positive change for Harambe's entire species?
After the 2015 killing of the famed Cecil The Lion, donations to conservation groups spiked and corporations took action to interrupt the wildlife trade. Something similar can and should happen to honor Harambe.
Here are 6 organizations that you can support in Harambe's memory:
1. Wildlife Conservation Society
The Wildlife Conservation Society helps gorillas by monitoring gorilla populations, working with local authorities and other local non-government organizations to end poaching and habitat destruction, diagnosing ebola to minimize the spread of disease, and education outreach.
2. African Wildlife Foundation
The African Wildlife Foundation helps encourage eco-friendly tourism to benefit gorillas in national parks, as it will allow local residents to financially benefit from gorillas in a way other than poaching. This will also raise local interest in the gorillas' survival, creating partners in conservation. They also fight deforestation, which eliminates the natural habitat of gorillas.
3. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International
Named after the murdered primatologist, The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International studies gorillas, learning more about their biology, behavior, and environment in order to establish the best way to conserve them. They also work with government officials to protect gorilla habitat and educate locals on the importance of conservation.
The organization offers an option to "adopt" a gorilla, with several donation levels, ranging from a single infant to an entire gorilla group. Those who adopt may receive an adoption certificate, detailed information on the species, a subscription to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Journal, a bumper sticker, a field patch, and more.
4. The Jane Goodall Institute
The Jane Goodall Institute is dedicated to preserving great apes in Africa. Donations support this through public education, habitat protection via anti-deforestation efforts, helping locals to find a sustainable income outside of the wildlife trade, and inspiring the next generation to follow in Dr. Goodall's footsteps and become a voice for apes.
5. World Wildlife Fund
The World Wildlife Fund is one of the most well-known conservation groups in the entire world. It has an Adopt A Gorilla program, which helps protect gorillas against disease, habitat destruction, and poaching. There are several adoption levels available, with some containing a plush gorilla, reusable gift bag, certificate of adoption, species information card, and more.
6. Cincinnati Zoo And Botanical Garden
Yes, instead of protesting the Cincinnati Zoo And Botanical Garden where Harambe was killed, consider financially supporting Gorilla World, where he received dedicated care and his family still lives. The zoo has an ongoing effort to expand the gorilla habitat, making the animals comfortable through a more natural habitat and allowing the exhibit to be open year round.
Nobody wants a repeat of Harambe's tragedy, least of all the Cincinnati Zoo. Through financial support, they will be able to improve the gorilla enclosure, ensuring that all visitors in the future have a safe an enjoyable visit.
Let's not be so consumed by outrage over Harambe's death that we forget to actually do something meaningful in response.
Cover image: Cincinnati Zoo And Botanical Garden