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Endangered Gorilla Killed after Child Falls into Habitat


One of this week’s trending topics on Facebook and twitter was a tragic story. A small boy fell into the gorilla habitat at the Cincinnati Zoo. Minutes later the western lowlands gorilla, a critically endangered species, was shot and killed by zoo personnel.

A tragic story has been made even more tragic through misinformation and misguided opinion on social media.

Here are six ways that Facebook and twitter users made the situation worse.


It’s the mother’s fault!


I’m a father of 14-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. I don’t know a single father or mother that has never in their lives lost sight of their three-year-old. I compare it to a trip to Walmart. You’ll see a toddler screaming and a mother completely exasperated, and usually another child being completely ignored. Those of you without children stand in judgment. I know I did. “If that were my child I would…” I’ll let you complete the sentence in condescending judgment. 

Parents, however, understand. We’ve all been there. Every child no matter how loved, well behaved, and never neglected has had a complete meltdown in public. Every child has also disappeared striking panic into their parents hearts, usually for less than 30 seconds, but feeling like an eternity.

The parents aren’t at fault. It was a bad situation that could’ve happened to any of us. In fact, the mother saw what happened and immediately called 911 for assistance. By all accounts she was there with multiple children, probably having a wonderful day. Distracted for 10 seconds, the curious three-year-old took advantage and went on an adventure.

Who agrees with me? Not the more than 500,000 people that signed an online petition requesting charges be brought in the death of the animal against the mother. However, the district attorney in Cincinnati and investigating police officers found absolutely no wrongdoing. Furthermore, witnesses also universally corroborated that the mother carried no-fault.

The zookeeper overreacted and killed the gorilla.


The zookeeper, whose name did not appear in any of the press briefings in my research, was very likely the best possible individual to make the decision.

I feel for this zookeeper, who probably has loved this gorilla and cared for him for years. However, the zookeeper also knew the capabilities of this animal. In fact, the gorilla is one of the most dangerous creatures in the zoo, and zoo personnel are not permitted in the habitat at the same time as the gorilla.

The zookeeper had to make a horrible choice and had minutes, or maybe seconds, to come to a decision. The zookeeper could have tried a tranquilizer. The zookeeper could have waited and persuaded the beast to come away from the child. The zookeeper decided, not based on public opinion or potential liability; he or she decided that the risk to the child outweighed their own desire to protect the gorilla.

This was an impossible choice, and one the zookeeper will be living with for the remainder of their life. It is not for us to judge. We only can thank him or her for their service, and trust the decision they made. 

The zoo was at fault.


This dense jungle is home to the Western Lowland Gorilla,
a critically endangered species. Source: WWF
The Cincinnati zoo is one of the top five in the country and recognized worldwide for excellence. The organizations’ dedication to protecting, conserving, and educating people about endangered species has been beyond reproach.

It was a tragic day at the zoo. However, the administration, facilities, and workers were not at fault. Not only do they follow best practices, in many cases they wrote the best practices.

Yes, the zoo will make some changes. In light of the publicity, they have to.

The district attorney also investigated the zoo and the personnel and found absolutely no fault or evidence to support criminal action.

The gorilla was protecting the boy.


Unfortunately, even the wisest people on social media accounts don’t know what was happening inside the brain of that gorilla. How do we know this? Because the people who worked with him every day didn’t know how he would react. The best experts in the world can’t predict how he would react.

This alpha male gorilla weighed 450 pounds. He was able to drag the child by one leg the way we would carry a damp towel, and with as much consideration.

This was a situation that in 17 years the gorilla had never experienced. It’s impossible to predict his ultimate reaction to the boy, or to anyone approaching while the boy was in his custody.

Regardless of the state of mind of the creature, there’s no doubt that the boy was in imminent danger.

The parents are out for a big payday.


Within minutes crowdfunding campaigns started for the child, the gorilla, and even funding for prosecuting criminals. Absolutely none of this was the doing of the parents.

In fact, in their first public statement, the parents said they had no need for any charitable donations and encouraged anyone whom felt the need to give to the Cincinnati zoo.

The parents are thankful for the outcome, but I’m sure are saddened. They don’t blame the zoo, and they have actively supported them throughout this process.

Lastly, we don’t need Donald Trump to prove racism is still prevalent on the web.


I was blown away at the outright evil I saw. The number of comments with racial undertones or blatant bigotry was massive. It made me ashamed to be an American. This three-year-old boy with a beautiful brown complexion became an instant poster child for bigotry, particularly the stereotype that somehow black parents are less capable. 

There are a huge number of factors that contributed to this tragic event. An amazing number of people made a judgment simply based on the color of a child’s skin, and for that they should be ashamed.

Social media can be a powerful tool or a destructive force. It’s easy to presume, but I encourage all of you to embrace and understand the collective power you have. Yes, make yourself heard, but remember to do so after thoughtful research and true understanding. Sometimes that’s not possible, so as in this case, the best response is silence.

Comments

  1. Jason, once again, I am blown away by your words. You have a way of saying what I think. But you are much more eloquent and calm. Thank you! I couldn't agree more.

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  2. awesome piece Jason!

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  3. Always love your blogs! Very well said!

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  4. I used to think it was the parents falt till i saw the exhibit then i understood how he crawled in. You hit the nail on the head with this i liked reading it

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  5. I used to think it was the parents falt till i saw the exhibit then i understood how he crawled in. You hit the nail on the head with this i liked reading it

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  6. I have 6 children and NONE of my children have gotten lost etc... not once. Thank the powers that be! If they did it would of been my fault for not watching them well enough. It was the parents fault, both were there. I know children can get out of hand and are quick and it only takes a second for something to happen but... It was not JUST the parent's fault tho... the zoo's need to have all the child protection precautions they can just like any other business that caters to mainly children.

    When it is all said and done it was a terrible accident and I am so glad the little boy is alive and well. I know they done what needed to be done once they were in that situation. The situation should have never come to pass but it did and here we are. I am also saddened that an endangered species has lost its life due to the neglect, in one arena or another, of humans.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Angel. Even though we don't 100% agree, part of my point is that at least you took time to think it through. Clearly a blend of circumstances led to this event. The parents may have been at fault, but not entirely. I think the point I'm making is that you at least gave it thorough thought before passing judgement and realize that you don't have all the information to be absolutely certain. Encouraging thoughtfulness among social media users is the most important point. Thank you.

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  7. I'm not surprised that your words are well considered, well written, and, in my opinion, absolutely accurate. Nice work, Jason.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. A little back story... Norm was my 10th grade english teacher. I think I got a C+ at best in his class. :)

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