Tuesday, May 31, 2016

This Isn't Utopia

Recently there was an incident at a zoo fairly close to my home, and it has drawn quite the reaction online.

Short version: a 4 year old boy somehow managed to get away from his mother, thru a railing, wire fencing, dense vegetation, scale a wall, and fall into a moat inside the gorilla enclosure. One of the male gorillas ignored the recall keepers issued from behind the scenes (which successfully called back two female gorillas), and went to the boy. Witnesses & keepers agree that he did not appear to be in attack mode, but became increasingly agitated as both the boy and the crowd screamed, causing his actions to become more violent. Fearing for the life of the boy, the zoo's dangerous animal response team made the decision to fatally shoot the gorilla.

Since then there has been widespread outrage online, directed at... pretty much everybody, depending on who you're reading.

The mom is bearing the brunt of it, being blamed for not keeping a good enough eye on her kid. The zoo comes in second, with some people insisting that killing the gorilla was not necessary. Zoos as a whole are being blamed for causing the gorilla's death, because if he wasn't in captivity to begin with, none of this would have happened. And the third group I've seen criticized is Christians who blame the mother, or who mourn the gorilla, or who go to zoos at all, with other Christians shouting cries of "judge not lest ye be judged", human life means more than animal life, and the like.

Quite frankly, it's a mess.

And yet, yes, I'm adding my voice to the mix.

I'm gonna start by saying can we all stop being so harsh with each other? Even if you disagree, there's no reason to name-call, point fingers, and generally be disrespectful toward one another.

Now, let's break this down.

The Mother:
This poor woman. She has drawn the ire of the interwebs, that's for sure. I'm going to admit, I still have a hard time seeing how a properly supervised child could have made it away from his mom, under a railing, thru wire fencing, thru dense vegetation, and scaled a small wall without her noticing until he was already in the moat. In my mind, that could not possibly have happened that quickly. But, I also admit that I was not there. So far I have only read one eye-witness account, and it seems to indicate it really did happen that quickly and the mom was absolutely unable to stop it. Since I was not there, I will defer to the opinion of someone who was, and will say this appears to be a horrible accident.

I do think that even without assigning blame, we can still learn from the incident for our own parenting efforts. Perhaps we reconsider visiting public areas when we know they are likely to be extra-crowded, as it was this holiday weekend. Larger crowds make it more difficult to keep an eye on small children. Perhaps we simply take steps to be more attentive than perhaps we have been in the past. Certainly there are several ways to make this a learning point for our own children. We can talk to them about things like: why it's important to follow instructions, why we stay near parents in crowded places, respecting the homes & habitats of animals, etc. There are any number of ways to turn this into a learning point for ourselves and our children, and I think we should.

The Zoo:
I will begin by stating that I 100% stand by the zoo's decision to use lethal measures to rescue the child. Human life trumps animal life every time. I have read & heard statements from several different experts in this area and have yet to hear one actual expert say the zoo had another reasonable option. Tranquilizers not only take several minutes (estimates range from 10-25 minutes in this situation), but the instant the gorilla felt the dart hit likely would have agitated him further. I've seen numerous people on social media argue that lethal force wasn't necessary, but not only do they not have the credentials to be taken seriously on the matter, I have not heard one offer another, more reasonable option. So I'll stand by the actual experts.

The zoo's director has indicated that the zoo will review everything from the response of the multiple areas of staff involved in the incident, to the security at the exhibit, as they should any time there is an incident such as this. I am curious if any changes will be made to the exhibit. It has been secure for 38 years prior to this incident, but if such a young child really did make it thru the barrier in such a short amount of time, that may indicate a need for improvements. I trust that they will review all the information available and react accordingly.

Zoological Institutions:
At the interest of full disclosure, I support zoos. Are there a few places that call themselves "zoos" that are run in less than adequate ways? Yes, I can't deny it. But by and large, in this country anyway, our major zoos work very hard to preserve & protect a multitude of species, to repopulate endangered species in their natural habitat, to rehabilitate endangered animals with the hopes of returning them to the wild, and to provide the animals in their charge the best care possible.

Let's start with blaming zoos as a whole for this gorilla's death because if he weren't captive this never would have happened. Technically true. But let's dig a little deeper.

The Western Lowland Gorilla is listed as "critically endangered". In short, this means that without intervention they are at high risk of extinction in the wild. Breeding this species in captivity is an important part of ensuring the future of the species as a whole, and the zoo in question has been a leader in this endeavour. When looking at the big picture, the answer isn't quite as easy as "don't put gorillas in captivity". The truth is without captive populations that can ensure the survival of the species it wouldn't be hard to envision the complete obliteration of this beautiful creature from our planet, at the hand of poachers, habitat loss, and the like. Are zoos ideal? No. But this isn't Utopia.

Christian Finger Pointing:
Ugh. Where to begin?

Let's start with those crying out to stop judging the mother with quotes of "judge not lest ye be judged". I hear ya. That verse has been beat to death about everything. Don't judge anybody for anything. It's also not quite that simple.

Just a few verses later we are presented with comparisons regarding the width of the gate to Heaven, false prophets vs real prophets, evaluating people by their fruits. All of which require a type of judgement or discernment. In other areas of the Bible we are instructed to "judge righteously". I think the key is in how we do it, and how we present it.

If we hold ourselves in higher esteem than another, as though we could never be at such fault, if we resort to disrespectful and unkind behaviour, surely this is not appropriate. But are we to review the actions of those around us, discern if they are best behaviors, apply to our lives accordingly? I think the answer is 'yes'.

Next, does human life have more value than animal life? Absolutely. But many of those pushing this point are upset that people are mourning the death of the gorilla, that there was a vigil at the zoo for the deceased animal, that anyone, especially fellow Christians, seem to care for animals at all. I'm not gonna lie, I don't understand this.

First of all, the little boy did not die. He has been released from the hospital with a minor concussion and a few scrapes. He is, for all purposes, fine. Therefore, there is no comparison. The little boy did not lose his life.

Had he died, I feel confident that the outpouring of emotion for his life would far outweigh any for the gorilla. Maybe some disagree, but I do think our society as a whole, Christian or not, does still value human life over animal life. Because the boy (thankfully!) did not die in the incident, but the gorilla did, this comparison, in my opinion, makes no sense.

So what about mourning the loss of an animal, caring for his life, being upset that he died? I believe all of those are not only understandable, but I'm going to go as far to say that they are understandable even within a Christian worldview.

From the beginning, God set man to have dominion over the animal kingdom. They are for us to eat, to clothe us, and most important in this case, for us to take care of them. Caring for the animal kingdom presents itself in different ways to different people, but I believe there is no shame in having an emotional response to the death of an animal. Furthermore, since this gorilla was an important link in the breeding population for this species, then it would be reasonable to mourn his loss even further as we look to the future of the species as a whole.


As we look at this unfortunate incident, I think there is plenty of room for each of us to evaluate what happened, see where we can learn something, and decide if & how to apply it to our lives. We don't all have to agree with one another, but we can try to do so in a respectful manner, can't we?

As always, thanks for checking in.

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