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Great Apes and Average Folks

I think I’m sophisticated ’cause I’m living my life like a good Homo sapien” – Ray Davies

I thought I’d take a more blog-like moment to write about the incident that took place at the Cincinnati Zoo last weekend when a three year-old boy wandered from his parents’ reach and fell twelve-plus feet into a moat at the gorilla enclosure. He was promptly made welcome by Harambe, a four-hundred and fifty pound silverback gorilla and pride of the zoo’s exhibit. After assessing the situation and watching Harambe briefly drag his new friend through the water with ridiculous rag-doll ease, zoo officials deemed it necessary to put the animal down. There was ample cell phone video of the lad’s brief but memorable face-time with the great beast but thankfully none of the shooting. I would hope that, at the least, it was executed by a competent marksman in as humane a fashion as possible.

There’s been much discussion about the matter .. more than there would have been twenty years ago when nobody had a video camera in their phone. When it comes to zealousy there are no more passionate practitioners than parents and animal rights activists. I have no qualms about the way the zoo handled this unfortunate matter. Watching the moment when Harambe — be it affectionately or otherwise — decides to relocate the boy is enough to see that he could have pulled off his head or other appendage with the ease in which a child removes an unlit candle from a birthday cake. There has been backlash against the parents and questions about how they let this happen. But where three year-old boys are concerned, one quick glance from Mom toward the cotton candy cart or Dad at the stems on Blondie heading to the giraffe exhibit is enough to do it. When I was about that age I got my arm stuck up in a vending machine reaching for some shiny object while my grandmother was getting her groceries bagged at Safeway. She was mortified at having to call the store manager over to soap up my arm and unlock the machine. Looking back now, she didn’t know how good she had it.

So yes, this was the preferred outcome. The parents got their child back safely and a tragedy of more epic proportion was averted. This said, I’d like to speak both selfishly and on behalf of the Gorilla Community. I prefer gorillas to most children. They have a consistently appealing appearance that conveys a calming, zen-like solemnity on the observer. Kids are typically unpleasant to look at for everybody but their parents and become even less so when they open their mouths. Yes, I know, this is an untenable and misanthropic position. But a random sampling of ten gorilla head shots and those of ten kids will validate it. And if the ten random kids are accompanied by their parents (say, at the zoo,) thereby forcing one to ponder the long and unfortunate road ahead? Forget about it. I wouldn’t pay twelve bucks to watch a human family interact and I doubt that most gorillas would. Conversely, I’d offer twenty or more to have a lot of human families removed from my sight-line. As much as I find zoos distasteful, I could watch a gorilla sit on a rock in the warm sun all day. But I can’t say the same about any human, short of perhaps the Dalai Lama .. and even then it would take some consideration on my part.

Think for a moment on the kind of deal Harambe got. He was snatched from his natural environment and brought to Cincinnati — a city with marginal cultural appeal and a lousy baseball team. Yeah, he was provided with free room and board, but it was the jungle equivalent of a crappy studio apartment with an insulting excuse for a moat surrounding it. If he wanted to splash in the water he had to do so in front of a bunch of gawking, pointing, trolls. Zoo-goers are far from the finest humanity has to offer and they almost always bring their offspring. This was what replaced his view of the lush expanse of God’s creation. Then one day the monotony is broken when a three year old child appears in his moat. Harambe goes over to investigate and is rewarded with a bullet to his head. So yes, I’m glad this child survived unharmed and was reunited with his parents, but regardless of how this went down, the gorilla wasn’t coming out alive. There are over seven billion humans on the planet and  little more than a hundred thousand gorillas. From a percentage standpoint, this was a much more significant blow to their population. The evolutionary chain was in full view that day in Ohio .. but make no mistake about this: ours too is a closed-end experiment. We may have a few dozen generational cycles ahead but we’re going down, and in what amounts to a second-hand tick on the cosmic clock. The most we can hope for is a few more sunny days ahead and that one of our progeny’s progeny doesn’t end up in the human exhibit at some latter-day equivalent of the Cincinnati Zoo.

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