As animal advocates, we are very much aware that all creatures on earth are individuals with distinct personalities and a capability to peacefully coexist with humans. However, many people still view animals as inferior to humans; as entitites that can be used by humans to their liking for food, clothing, entertainment, and anything else. Sometimes it takes a little help from the media to help spread awareness about animals, and thanks to the growing widespread use of social media, this is more true today than at any other time before. It seems the entire world became gorilla advocates with the tragic story of Harambe the gorilla who was shot and killed in a zoo after a boy entered his enclosure, and now a viral photo of another captive gorilla named Jelani is drawing even more attention to this fascinating species.
On a recent trip to the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky, Lindsey Costello was drawn to a male gorilla named Jelani who was watching videos with the zoo’s Assistant Mammal Curator, Jill Katka. Costello then did the same, and much to her delight, Jelani was sincerely interested in the gorilla videos she shared with him.
According to Costello, “If he got tired of a video he’d move his hand up and swipe…If I moved the phone away he’d stretch it out.”
Katka explains that Jelani learned to love technology from a young age, something which has caused him to go viral several times before. “They really appreciate having people come and hang out with them, sit and show them pictures, and do interesting things,” said Katka. “We have some older female gorillas that really love children.”
This photo is shining light on a critically endangered species and proving yet again just how closely related gorillas are to humans in terms of emotion, interests, intellect, and character. With such a high degree of intelligence and emotion, Jelani needs a far more enriching environment than being on display in an enclosure. No matter how hard zoos work to replicate animals’ natural environment, they can never compare, and unfortunately, this often leads animals to exhibit stereotypical behaviors such as swaying back and forth, self-harm, and aggression. This phenomenon is known as zoochosis and is thought to be derived from deep mental distress, likely resulting from not being able to carry out natural behaviors – and well, possess their own freedom.
While this photo is undoubtedly sweet and showcases how similar we are to wild animals, our efforts to protect wild animals like Jelani really need to be focused in the wild, not behind glass walls where animals will never truly be themselves.
Image Source: lindseyncostello / Instagram.com