Animal rights activists are demanding justice for a 17-year-old silverback gorilla who was killed on Saturday (May 28) after a 3-year-old Black boy fell into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. More than 336,000 supporters have signed a petition calling for the boy’s parents to be investigated for negligence:
This beautiful gorilla lost his life because the boy’s parents did not keep a closer watch on the child…. We the undersigned want the parents to be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life. We the undersigned feel the child’s safety is paramount in this situation. We believe that this negligence may be reflective of the child’s home situation. We the undersigned actively encourage an investigation of the child’s home environment in the interests of protecting the child and his siblings from further incidents of parental negligence that may result in serious bodily harm or even death.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati police say they have “no intention of charging the family because they don’t believe a crime was committed.” And NBC News reports that during Monday’s press conference, Zoo Director Thane Maynard said the zoo’s dangerous animal response team made the right call, arguing that a tranquilizer would have further agitated him:
“You can’t take a risk with a silverback gorilla,” he said. “We’re talking about animal that with one hand can take a coconut and crush it.” Maynard described the gorilla’s killing as “a big loss,” but he said the boy’s safety was paramount. He called critics of the zoo’s decision “Monday morning quarterbacks” who “don’t understand primate biology.”
“We stand by our decision,” he said. “We’d make the same decision today.”
He also said that the barrier is in compliance with both federal and Association of Zoos and Aquariums regulations, but that he is looking into how to strengthen it. The boy’s family says he is “doing just fine,” and extended thanks to the zoo staff for acting quickly via a statement: “We know that this was a very difficult decision for them, and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also issued a statement, saying that the “enclosure should have been surrounded by a secondary barrier between the humans and the animals,” while reiterating a call for “families to stay away from any facility that displays animals as sideshows for humans to gawk at.”
Some have criticized activists’ focus on the animal’s well-being over that of a child, contrasting the outpouring of support for the gorilla versus the virtual silence when it comes to the deaths of Black women in police custody. An excerpt from one especially poignant post from Facebook user Jamila White:
People are up in arms from every angle. Furious. Sad. Demanding accountability. Wringing hands. Demanding justice. Calling for reform. No matter which way you look at this tragic zoo situation, this fact remains: Black women and girls are also dying in captivity—in jail cells all over this country.
In one day, you know Harambe’s name.
Do you know these names? Wakiesha Wilson. Ralkina Jones. Gynnya McMillen. Symone Marshall. Joyce Curnell. Kindra Chapman. Raynette Turner. Sandra Bland.
Say their names.