Gorilla gorilla gorilla

Cause and effect.

When one action yields another, we call it cause and effect. It rains and a rainbow appears. If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want a glass of milk. Stepping on the banana peel on the floor caused Daffy Duck to slip hilariously into the Rube Goldberg-esque trap he constructed to thwart Bugs Bunny. No matter what the circumstances, the cause is the why and the effect is the what. Like an algebra equation where we know a variable, determining one can help us discover the other. However, it is not always a simple process, especially when so many voices are blurting their opinions on the situation without considering all the facts presented before them. It is even more difficult when those facts are not crystal clear, and probably will not ever be. As frustrating as it is, sometimes we have to accept that we may never know what the cause or effect of a situation was, even if we know the other.

Saturday, May 28, 2016, such a situation occurred when a four year old boy ended up in the Gorilla World exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo in Cincinnati, Ohio. In order to ensure the boy’s safety, the zoo’s dangerous animal response team (DART) shot and killed the freshly 17 year old silverback male named Harambe. For about 10 minutes, Harambe stood over the child and also dragged him through the water of the moat in the exhibit. These are the facts of what happened; the effect of the boy’s presence in the animals’ enclosure. What the cause of him entering the enclosure is is trickier to pin down. Also tricky to foresee, is a larger cause and effect. This situation has been, and will only more so continue to be, the cause of conversations, protests, movements, and who knows what else? I do not know where this incident will take us. How will it shape the ways zoos operate? How will it drive animal activists? How will Harambe’s legacy be remembered? For that matter, how will the boy’s and his family?

As I stated earlier – without much need to do so – there are many opinions on these and many more questions surrounding the circumstances that unfolded Saturday, however, we have to be careful to not be swayed by our respective passions, no matter where they lie. We have to be able to take anger, confusion, frustration, and even love out of the equation, because these emotions abound on every side of the issue; they just stem from different places for different people. I have connections to the Cincinnati Zoo on a personal and professional level, but I must disregard these and perceive the situation as objectively as I possibly can, and so must we all.

As I mentioned, there are two main events of cause and effect at play here. One has the entire occurrence of the child in the gorillas’ enclosure as the cause of some yet to be determined effect to come. The other, has the child’s presence in the gorillas’ enclosure as the final effect, but what exactly is the cause that brought it about? Or put more plainly in today’s terms fueled by front page instant news and social media, who is to blame? Do we blame the boy, a child of four whose rationale was not educated or mature enough to outweigh his desire to see the gorillas up close? Do we blame the mother and other guardians who are responsible for the care of the child for not preventing him from working past the barriers? Do we blame the Cincinnati Zoo for not having more childproof barriers in place to make it harder for people, especially kids, to get into the animal exhibits? Do we blame Harambe the gorilla for not responding to his keepers when they called him to his interior enclosure? Do some, or all, share the blame? Let he who is without bias cast the first stone.

The frustratingly unsatisfying answer is we don’t know for sure who is at fault, and we may never truly know. Part of me wants to say that the boy’s mom should have kept a better eye on him, and that her being overwhelmed with her other children and the mass amount of people joining in on the opening of the summer season for the Zoo were factors she should have considered. Buy one of those humiliating monkey-backpack kid leash things and tie him to your wrist or family wagon. This same part of me wants to point out that the kid had to work past a fence, dense hedge bushes, and scale or fall down a 10-12 foot moat wall into the water below. Yet this part of me is biased by years of observing guests at places like zoos not obeying the rules put in place for their safety. While this may have been another instance of that, it is not fair for me – especially as a man of science – to jump to that conclusion based upon evidence that does not directly correlate to this case.

One thing that I will say given my experience and education, is that it is irresponsible for anyone to speculate what Harambe was doing after the child wound up in his enclosure, except for his keepers and the staff that worked with him and the other gorillas daily. Those are the only people who truly knew the behavior of that animal, and they will be the first to tell you they are not certain of what was going through his head when he was next to that boy. Thayne Maynard, the director of the Cincinnati Zoo, has made a series of statements where he does an excellent job of the regretful duty of presenting what happened and why the Zoo acted as it did. Quite simply, there was a situation that they dread and hope never occurs that caused them to take drastic action they did not want to, but felt they had to. As with anything, cause and effect are at the center of every series of actions and no matter how an action occurs, it yields another. We simply must hope that when we are faced with such a circumstance, we offer the best reaction that we possibly can.

Thanks for reading.

Happy Memorial Day,



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