Animal rights vs. human rights at center of Cincinnati Zoo debate

by Ciera Horton
Posted 6/02/16, 10:42 am

Animal rights activists have raised an uproar ever since the death of Harambe, a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, on Saturday. Zoo workers shot and killed the gorilla after it dragged a 3-year-old boy through its habitat.

Animal rights organizations blame the zoo for the dangerous enclosure that failed to keep out the curious child, and for killing the gorilla. Many equate it with murder. Other critics accuse the boy’s mother, Michelle Gregg, of neglect, prompting a Cincinnati police investigation. Eyewitnesses say the boy told his mom he wanted to get in the gorilla enclosure. Gregg was busy with other children and simply told the child no. According to zoo director Thane Maynard, the boy climbed over a stainless steel rail and crawled through four feet of bushes before tumbling into the enclosure.

This was the first breach since the Cincinnati gorilla habitat opened in 1978—the first “bar-less” enclosure in the country.

“The Cincinnati Zoo failed both the public and Harambe by maintaining an enclosure which allowed a member of the public to gain access to a potentially dangerous animal,” Michael Budkie, director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now! (SAEN) said in a statement.

SAEN is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fine the Cincinnati Zoo for its failure to prevent the death of the lowland gorilla, a member of an endangered species.

For other activists, the problem extends beyond the zoo’s lack of security. Complaints have ranged from opposition to the very existence of zoos to accusations of parental negligence. Many consider Harambe’s killing immoral, despite the need to save the human child. For animal rights advocates, killing Harambe violated his right to life.

Rutgers professor Gary Francione, an animal rights activist, believes humans and animals are moral equals.

“Some may believe that humans are made in the image of God and animals are not,” he admitted. 

But for him, the question is like asking whether to kill one human child to save another human child: Humans and animals should have equal rights. He claims killing the gorilla was not morally justifiable when the zoo was responsible for creating the problem in the first place.

Other critics tweeted their outrage. 

“That gorilla would’ve been a better parent than the mother,” Thomas_miller5 said. 

“Murdering an endangered gorilla? We are already overly populated w/kids?! Where are the stupid parents?!” Debdoubsweetie added.

Critics launched an online petition, “Justice for Harambe,” which holds the parents responsible and has amassed nearly 450,000 signatures. The petition calls for further investigation: “We believe that this negligence may be reflective of the child’s home situation.”

The child’s parents remained mostly quiet through the furor surrounding the incident, although Michelle Gregg did issue a statement thanking zoo officials.

“As a society, we are quick to judge how a parent could take their eyes off of their child,” she posted on Facebook. “Accidents happen, but I am thankful that the right people were in the right place today.”

Despite pushback, Cincinnati zoo officials maintain they would make the same decision again. The zoo insists it was the life of the child or the life of the gorilla—and the zoo chose the child.

Ciera Horton

Ciera Horton is a WORLD intern.

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  • DakotaLutheran
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:32 pm

    What matters here? What if instead of a gorilla, it was a tiger? What if instead of a tiger, it were deranged murderer? What if the child had fallen in, perhaps because of some broken barrier? What if someone had thrown the child into the enclosure?  If any of these were true, would some still conclude that the child is on his own? At what point is it for them justifiable to kill that which has the child? As in the case of infamous moral dilemmas on lifeboats and with trains, something bad is going to happen no matter what one decides. We don't come away from such events feeling clean. It is the way of this Fallen world that none of us is pure. Daily there are regrets and sin. Fools and the arrogant forgive themselves. Worse are those who can only find fault in another. The rest of us go on weighed down by regrets and the sin of the world, hoping for a future cleansed by the Blood of the Lamb. 

  • JenniMiki70's picture
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:32 pm

    I cannot believe people in this day consider an animal to be as or more important than any human life.  Then again, I see people posting on FaceBook all the time that someone who abuses animals should get the death penalty.  God warned us the world would turn upside down.

  • Fuzzyface
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:32 pm

    Sorry about the tripple post.  The site gave me an error message so I tried again.

  • Fuzzyface
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:32 pm

    I doubt Gary Francione would think the same if it was him, his wife, or his child.