Harambe was a beautiful 450-pound silverback gorilla living at the Cincinnati Zoo. His strength was equal that of 10 adult men. So when a curious three-year-old found his way into the giant’s habitat, there was not much time for pondering.
Michelle Gregg, a mother of four, had taken her children to the zoo over Memorial Day weekend. Never would she have thought that an exciting day would take such a horrifying turn. The family was getting ready to leave the zoo when Gregg’s tired, young daughter began to fuss while they stopped next to the gorilla habitat. She turned to comfort her and in a matter of seconds her three-year-old son, Isaiah, was gone. The toddler had crawled through the fence and into the bushes that lined a 15-foot drop into Harambe’s home. Another visitor saw the child and attempted to grab him, but the boy tumbled down the hill into the water at Harambe’s feet.
The crowd, including Gregg, began screaming as the gorilla towered over the boy and pulled him into a corner. It is possible Harambe never intended to hurt the boy, but it was obvious he was becoming anxious from the excitement above. He grabbed the no-more-than-40-pound toddler by his arms and violently dragged him to a secluded part of the habitat.
While the boy was retrieved with no life-threatening injuries, Harambe did not make it out alive. Officials at the zoo made the quick decision: The only way to save Isaiah was to shoot the magnificent giant.
In the wake of such a tragic event, the Internet is looking for someone to blame. Within hours of the news breaking, the harassment of the parents began. Cries of child negligence flooded the World Wide Web. Animal activists all over the globe are asking for the heads of the young boy's parents.
When Michelle Gregg posted to her (now-deactivated) Facebook page that “accidents happen,” the fire grew tenfold. People began commenting, tweeting, even writing entire posts about Michelle Gregg, her family, and her parenting. Mind you, these are people who have never met Michelle. Complete strangers are able to harass a family that had just experienced something horrific. This kind of harassment is very unique to our generation, all thanks to the Internet.
Michelle is a mother and like any mother will tell you, no matter how closely you watch your children, there will be a moment, the slightest instant, where your back is turned and those little crawlers wiggle free.
Many members of the mom-shaming mob have adopted the slogan, “Zoos are not babysitters.” While that statement is absolutely accurate, you would hope that in the event a child did become separated from their family, they wouldn’t be able to find their way into the habitat of a dangerous animal.
In recent years, many zoos have attempted to remove visible cages around animals to give viewers, what they call, a “more natural” look into the animals lives. That is the reason Harambe and his gorilla friends were living in a moat with no real security besides a 15-foot drop, which anyone daring to get a closer look could most definitely scale. While zoos create a façade of a natural life, it’s just that: a façade. No matter which way you put it, Harambe was a captive. He was born, lived, and died a prisoner.
It is a shame that Harambe’s life was brought to such an abrupt end, but it is just as sad that he was ever in the zoo to begin with. Such a beautiful, majestic creature should be living his life outside of cages and moats and be free to run in nature, where he surely would never encounter a curious 3-year-old human. And while you may claim that an endangered species can’t be left in the wild, there are many other ways to safekeep animals besides creating a profitable show for them to perform in. (You can visit websites like World Wildlife Fund to see pictures and videos of animals in their real natural habitats. These happy, free animals are far more exciting than seeing an anti-depressant pumped polar bear in Central Park.)
While almost half a million people and counting have signed their names to a petition demanding, under the guise of animal rights, that Gregg and her family face criminal charges none of them seem to mind that Harambe was holed up behind a waist-high fence for his entire existence.
The death of Harambe is no doubt a heart-wrenching loss, but the Internet harassment of a terrified mother is not the answer. Demanding for her children to be removed from their home, to have their family investigated, to put Michelle and her husband in jail, are all instances of what is now known as internet mob justice.
But that is not how justice is served. A group of ill-informed, headline-scanning vigilantes do not a justice system make.
Michelle Gregg took her eyes off of her child for one moment and an accident happened, just like accidents happen to all of us, everyday. The decision to shoot Harambe was not made by Michelle Gregg or any member of her family, it was made by the fast-acting professionals at the Cincinnati Zoo who saw no other way to save the scared little boy.
But this isn’t about Michelle Gregg. This isn’t even about Harambe. This is about a generation of people who are able to stir up mob-like mentality in a matter of minutes with the ever-increasing intrusion of the Internet on our lives. But there are real people behind these stories and there are real lives being torn apart by words on a glowing screen.
Header image via the Cincinatti Zoo
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