There’s been a lot of debate in the last week about the killing of the 17-year-old gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo.
Harambe, an endangered western lowland gorilla, was shot after a four-year-old boy climbed into the enclosure and was grabbed by the large, strong primate, who became increasingly agitated by the yelling of the human onlookers.
Park staff had no choice but to kill the gorilla, as the safety of the child had to be paramount. It has been explained that tranquilizers would not have worked immediately and there just wasn’t time to wait.
It is a tragedy, though.
There is the question of whether the child’s parents should be held responsible in some way for the incident.
There is the question of whether more security is needed at the exhibit to keep people out.
There is also the question of whether or not zoos are something that we should still have in the world today.
With our advanced technologies, there are many other, less invasive ways to view nature and all its creatures.
We know that, as much as we try at these institutions, we cannot perfectly replicate the habitats that many of the more exotic zoo animals come from.
Captivity is not an ideal way for many of these creatures to live their lives.
It’s particularly hard when we’re talking about really large animals like elephants, or other animals like large cats that would traditionally range over a wide territory.
Zoos don’t have the acres and acres of land it would take to truly house these creatures in anything close to their natural state. There just aren’t enclosures that big. Even if there were, it would defeat the purpose of putting the animals on display.
Some smaller animals can do perfectly well in captivity, but they are generally not the star attractions of the menagerie.
There is an argument to be made that some of the species in question are critically endangered, with their natural habitats being laid waste by human encroachment and trophy hunters and poachers decimating wild populations.
Real protection in some of their native regions is just not possible.
In this context, are zoos still serving an important purpose, or is there a better way?
We in B.C. are not beyond reproach when it comes to our relationship with the natural world.
Just one example: the trophy hunt is a hideous and barbaric anachronism that blights our provincial reputation.
It is repugnant that our government has allowed it to continue. There is no justification for why this senseless slaughter is allowed to continue.
Are zoos likewise an anachronism? It’s something to consider.