Stop Shooting Gorillas, Grant Them Personhood Rights

Humans are classified by biologists as Great Apes, along with orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos.  Geneticists inform us that we humans share 98 percent of our DNA with chimps.

Yet all the Great Apes, besides humans, are in jeopardy.  They are being wantonly killed, sometimes unnecessarily used for research, captured for zoos, pouched, and illegally sold as pets.  Plus their native habitat is being destroyed at an alarming rate.

Their plight was recently publicized by the killing of a western lowland gorilla–named Harambe–at a zoo in Cincinnati.

On the day Harambe died, a 4-year-old boy managed to get into his enclosure. Video of the incident shows that Harambe grabbed the child, stood over him at times, and dragged him. The severity of Harambe’s actions and the perceived reasoning behind them depend on whom you ask. And after evaluating the situation, zoo officials decided to kill Harambe instead of tranquilizing him.

Getting into the enclosure was no easy task.  There is a barrier, shrubs, and a 12-foot deep moat with shallow water in it.  The boy had threatened the invasion beforehand.

People are mad at the mother; people are mad at the zoo; and people are mad at zoos in general.  According to one website:

It just seems a little puzzling to not be able to keep an eye on your child especially in a place where killing beasts — gorillas, lions, wild African dogs, and wolves — roam.

The statement is pathetic and certainly not accurate.  Gorillas are not “killing beasts” as implied by the author, they are for all intents and purposes herbivores, although they do eat insects.  The other animals on the list are carnivores.  Gorillas are not a threat to humans in the same sense as “lions, wild dogs, and wolves.”  But their size and weight is certainly intimidating.

I have had short close encounters with 3 species of Great Apes in their natural habitat.  All 3 encounters were life changing.  In southern Uganda, my granddaughter and I spent an hour with a group of 14 mountain gorillas.  It was an experience that neither of us will forget.  But I wonder how I would have felt if one of gorillas was threatening to my granddaughter?  I would suggest that when you visit gorillas in their native habitat, that you need to agree that your life is no more valuable than theirs.

A Young Male Mountain Gorilla Chewing on My Shirt

A Young Male Mountain Gorilla Chewing on My Shirt

It is my opinion that the gorilla did not need to be shot.   The mother was certainly negligent.  There is a reason for the barrier, shrubs, and moat.  Her son had warned her of his plan.  But we need to “cut her some slack.”

The zoo needs a much better separation mechanism and needs to have an SOP for when the gorilla enclosure is breached.  Since gorillas are a critically endangered species, we shouldn’t be shooting them.

Ben Shapiro, writing in the National Review, compares the killing of Harambe to the necessary killing of Old Yeller.  This is comparison is ridiculous since Old Yeller has an ugly and terminal case of rabies and Harambe is perfectly healthy.  Doesn’t the NR have an editor?  Shapiro goes on:

A society that treats animals like humans is a society that will treat humans like animals.

So sure, let’s take a moment to be upset about the fate of Harambe — but only a moment. Then let’s remember that our virtue-signaling about the death of a 450-pound gorilla to save the life of a small child isn’t virtuous at all — it’s a sign that our virtue has been twisted in ugly ways that will end with more human suffering in the end.

Talk about hyperbole.  Respecting gorillas and the other Great Apes doesn’t make me think less of human suffering.  I would argue that it enhances our empathy.

The Great Apes are sentient beings, and they deserve a high level of protection.  Some, including myself, have even suggested that they deserve some form of personhood rights.  This case has been argued in this blog.  And it is time to take the issue seriously.

For more about Great Apes, click here.

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This entry was posted in Africa, Environment, great apes, Personal Essays, Social Justice, Travel, uganda and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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