Harambe, an endangered western-lowland gorilla, died Saturday after harassing a young child.The 3-year-old boy had purposely crawled over a steel barrier, through about 4 feet of bushes and fell down a 15-foot wall into Harambe’s enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo after warning his mother multiple times that he wanted to go play in the enclosure’s moat.

After 17-year-old Harambe was confused and scared from the screams of on-lookers, he dragged the small boy through a moat by his arms and legs. A zoo official shot Harambe with a bullet after taking 10 minutes to consider what could happen if they were to use a tranquilizer instead.

“They didn’t use Tranquilizers for a few reasons,” said Amanda O’Donoughue, a former zookeeper and gorilla handler, in a Facebook post. “A. Harambe would’ve taken too long to become immobilized, and could have really injured the child in the process as the drugs used may not work quickly enough depending on the stress of the situation and the dose B. Harambe would’ve have drowned in the moat if immobilized in the water, and possibly fallen on the boy trapping him and drowning him as well.”

The zoo had no choice but to kill Harambe. If the child had been seriously injured or had died in the enclosure, the zoo would’ve suffered an incredible amount of legal repercussions. I can only imagine the effect the child’s death would have on rules for gorillas, their exhibits and their handlers.

However, the zoo is not at fault.

The blame rests entirely on the mother.

People are saying there should have been more protections in place, but regardless of whether or not the zoo had one or 15 barriers in place between the crowd and the gorillas, it’s the parent’s responsibility to make sure the child follows any rules the zoo has put in place. The rule that comes to mind in this instance would be “Don’t break into enclosures with dangerous animals that could kill you.”

There have been instances where children have accidentally fallen into enclosures. Accidents happen. That’s no one’s fault. This wasn’t an accident and occurred because of the mother’s negligence and the child’s stupidity. However, children are allowed to be stupid. Parents aren’t allowed to be negligent.

It’s not the zoo’s responsibility, nor the public’s for that matter, to supervise a child where a parent has failed. The child warned the mother repeatedly that he was going to enter the gorilla’s home, the mother heard him and told him he wasn’t. She should have kept a closer eye on him after his statements and probably even left the area to ensure the child wouldn’t have a chance to follow through on his plan.

On May 31, Cincinnati Police said they will be looking into the actions of the child’s parents and determining if any charges need to be brought forward. According to a CNN article, the review will only be in regard to the actions of the parents leading up to the incident and will not be related to the safety or operations of the zoo.

In my opinion, the child’s parents need to be charged with negligence and fined for the cost of one critically endangered western-lowland gorilla, with an extra side of parenting classes.

Harambe’s death has highlighted the argument of the worth of a human life versus the life of an animal.

“There are millions and millions of 4-year-old human boys in this world and only a tiny amount of silver-backed gorillas,” said one commenter in a Vice article regarding the situation. “… I don’t want anyone to get hurt, I just think it’s interesting that because we happen to be human, we automatically value our animal life over other animal lives.”

I’m not here to say whether the above commenter’s utilitarian view is morally or logically right. I’m only trying to say that if you can’t control your kids, don’t take them out into public. Or more accurately, if you have a hard time supervising your gorilla-like 3-year-old, don’t have them around dangerous animals.


Alissa Smith is the News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @thealissasmith or email her at

Read or Share this story: