I am more than a bit surprised at the public reaction. This is not to say that I think the shooting of a 400 pound silver back gorilla – an endangered species - is something to celebrate. Far from it. When something like this happens it should make people sad. But in this case it was by far the right thing to do. And because of these circumstances I was actually happy that the life of a 4 year old boy took precedence over the life of an animal.
For those not familiar with the story – which has been all over the news for days now, here is what happened. While on a visit to the Cincinnati Zoo, a 4 year old boy managed to escape his mother’s attention for a moment, climb over a barrier separating the gorilla exhibition and fell into a moat where this gorilla was located. The gorilla started ‘playing’ with the child in a very dangerous way. The decision was made to shoot the gorilla so that the child would be spared.
The gorilla was not at fault. He did what came naturally to him. But a young boy’s life was in danger. There is not a doubt in my mind that the only response was to eliminate that danger as quickly as humanly possible. Shooting the animal was apparently the only way to do that. That should have been the end of the story. A mother’s fear was quickly turned into relief. It’s sad that an animal that did nothing wrong had to be killed. But when to comes to human life, there is no contest between that and animal life.
And yet hundreds of thousands of people have complained about an animal being needlessly killed. As though killing an animal was the same as killing a human being. These people had nothing to say about the fact that a child’s life was saved by that act. No concern about the child or his family. They were upset that an animal was killed. That was the extent of it. I said I was surprised. But I am actually shocked at how many people are more outraged by the killing of an animal in pursuit of saving a human life than they are relieved about the fact that a human life was saved because of it.
There was some legitimate questioning by these people about why a stun gun; or tranquilizer gun; or other non lethal weapon wasn’t used. That, they thought, would have spared both the lives of the child and the gorilla. But as zoo officials explained, that would not have immobilized the animal quickly enough. Between the time the animal was hit and the time it became immobilized, that boy could have been killed or seriously injured.
I am reminded of a story from 2003. About the animal rights activist organization, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). In order to promote a vegetarian diet, they compared chickens slaughtered at factory farms to Jews annihilated in Nazi death camps.
This exposes a philosophy that sees human beings and animals as equals – with equal rights to life. Killing a chicken to them is the same as killing a human being. There is no Godliness to the human being… no being created in the image of God. We are all animals - with human beings just a bit higher up in the food chain.
It isn’t much of a leap from there to saying that an animal that is part of an endangered species should be given precedence of life over that of a child.
I’m not saying that any of the people who are complaining about killing this gorilla think that. But it can’t be that far off based on the outrage they are expressing at the animals death. Thank God that Cincinnati’s zoo keepers are more ethical than that. A child’s life was spared.
A word about the public animus towards the mother. Thousands of people have expressed a desire to see ‘justice’ being served by blaming the mother for not watching her child well enough – allowing him to escape into the ‘arms of a gorilla’. Which ended up forcing the zoo keepers to kill it. I am frankly appalled by this attitude.
This was a 4 year old. How many parents have looked away from their child for a moment only to find him gone. Having slipped away from the mother’s otherwise watchful eye… making her frantic – only to find him quickly thereafter and experiencing a sense of great relief.
People are human. This type of thing happens all the time. In this case, that moment enabled this mother’s son to slip away and end up in that moat with a gorilla. This does not make her irresponsible. It makes her human. I see no value to blaming the mother. I see only anger expressed by a public upset that a beautiful animal was killed. As though the fact that a human life was saved by that didn’t matter. It’s almost as though they turned their wrath against the mother when they couldn’t blame the zoo anymore.
Don’t judge people until you are in their place – say Chazal. Instead of being upset, those people ought to be sympathetic to this family and grateful that they were spared a tremendous tragedy.
I don’t know how much longer this story will linger on. But in my view it is a precious waste of time. In that spirit, I have a message to the media: Stop harping on this and let this family get back to normal.
Please do not think I don’t care what happens to animals. Quite the contrary. The Torah admonishes us to not be cruel to them. It tells us to be kind to them – and spare them needless suffering. Avoiding Tzar Baalei Chaim - inflicting pain to animals is high value in Judaism. It’s just that human life supersedes that of animal life by orders of magnitude.
It is because I care about sparing animals from any suffering that - if it were up to me, I would abolish all zoos. I believe that it is cruel to keep animals in captivity – in many cases locked up in cages - away from their natural habitat. Whatever educational value there may be in a zoo, it pales in comparison to mistreating animals this way. What’s more - abolishing zoos would certainly prevent anything like this from ever happening again.