In early 2016, Harambe, a 17-year-old silverback gorilla was shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo after a child fell into the animal’s enclosure. The tragic incident incited intense debates on either side as to whether or not shooting the animal, after a young boy fell into his enclosure, was the right thing to do.
While there has been an enormous amount of speculation over whether it was necessary for zoo officials to kill the gorilla rather than use tranquilizers, the blaring reality that Harambe should have never been in captivity has been largely ignored. There is no reason that this gorilla ever needed to be in the zoo other than for the sake of our own entertainment.
And the issue of keeping animals in captivity continues to be swept under the rug with news of the Cincinnati Zoo announcing a new male gorilla, named Mshindi, a year after Harambe’s tragic death. Mshindi is a 29-year-old male western lowland silverback gorilla and was relocated from the Louisville Zoo to the Cincinnati Zoo. Sadly, Mshindi’s life will be continued to be filled with an unnatural and stressful environment.
Life in Captivity is No Life
Trading animals between zoos is nothing new. Zoos routinely trade and relocate animals who they deem to have outlived profitability or who no longer fit into breeding schemes. Trading animals with other zoos can be extremely stressful for the animals who are relocated, as they leave behind social bonds and surroundings they have grown accustomed to.
Countless studies have proven that zoos do little in the way of encouraging conservation or education about animals. With the exception of a few zoos that have rehabilitation and release programs, most never release animals back to the wild so that they can contribute to wild populations. Rather, many zoos have Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs where they breed a certain number of animals to maintain an ample population for display and “genetic diversity.” Zoos are known to sell or kill off any “unwanted” offspring that they do not deem necessary.
Reproductive biologists from the Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conversation and Research of Endangered Wildlife extracted viable sperm from Harambe and have plans to use the sample in programs, such as artificial insemination and genetics research. One of the misleading claims made by zoos is that breeding animals in captivity is part of conservation efforts, guaranteeing that the world’s species are around for future generations. Animals, especially baby animals, help draw large crowds to zoos, so is the motivation really conservation — or is it profit?
Primates like gorillas and chimpanzees share around 90 percent of the same DNA as human beings. They’re known for their high intelligence and some, like Koko the gorilla, have even learned sign language. These animals thrive in the company of others and require mental challenges and enrichment to thrive. Sadly, life in the zoo can never truly satisfy the needs of these animals.
To make matters worse, the eastern lowland gorilla is at risk of going extinct because of human actions. Primarily found in the Congo Basin of Africa, years of civil unrest in this region have taken their toll on the area’s wildlife; both the Grauer’s gorilla and the closely related mountain gorilla have seen their population plummet as a result. Sadly, a recent report by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) revealed that Grauer’s gorillas now number less than 3,800 individuals: a 77 percent decrease in the last twenty years alone.
Gorillas Deserve Better
Gorillas are incredible animals, and in many ways, they are just like us. They possess distinct personalities and in the wild, they share strong emotional bonds with family members. They even mourn their loved ones, like us. Thanks to films like Godzilla, these animals have sometimes been given a violent reputation, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Gorillas are by no means violent tempered. In fact, research shows the great kindness gorillas show and on the whole, they are peaceful beings. Knowing what we do about the intelligence of animals, it is incredibly difficult to justify keeping them in captivity when our efforts to help these animals could be so much better placed in conserving their natural habitat.
Knowing what we do about the intelligence of animals, it is incredibly difficult to justify keeping them in captivity when our efforts to help these animals could be so much better placed in conserving their natural habitat.
How You Can Help
Will another tragic event, like the death of Harambe, have to happen for the Cincinnati Zoo to realize the danger for both the animals and humans? Let’s not wait until it’s too late. Instead of spending money to visit a zoo, donate to an organization that’s working to protect animals and their habitats. If you still want to interact with animals, there are plenty of humane alternatives to visiting a zoo.
We can all help to end this cycle of suffering by refusing to attend any zoo or attraction that profits from the display of wild animals. When people stop paying to see animals in captivity, its utility will disappear.
Image source: Cincinnati Zoo and Botantical Gardens