Many people worldwide already know about the shooting of a 17-year-old male western lowland gorilla named Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo to save the life of a four-year old child who fell into the gorilla's cage. The boy apparently told his mother he wanted to meet Harambe and crawled under a rail and over the wall of the moat.
As usual, my inbox was ringing constantly with different reports of Harambe's killing, some might call it an execution or a murder. Indeed, the title of Peter Holley's essay in the Washington Post is called 'Shooting an endangered animal is worse than murder’: Grief over gorilla’s death turns to outrage.
Who's to Blame and What Can Be Done to Avoid Such Unnecessary Killings?
Opinions vary widely about whether or not the boy's parents are to blame and should be charged for negligence and whether Harambe should have been killed, as there is essentially no evidence that the gorilla was going to harm the child. As I watched footage of the event I was reminded of an incident at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo in which a female western lowland gorilla named Binta Jua rescued a three-year old boy who fell into her enclosure.
We can also ask if the zoo is to blame. Why was the boy able to get under the rail, had zoo workers practiced the sorts of rescues brought on by these events, why wasn't Harambe tranquilized?
Moving forward, caretakers, who are responsible for the day-to-day well-being of the zoo's residents and who form personal relationships with them, must be involved in preparing for emergency situations such as this. It's these people "on the ground" who know the animals the best and who regularly communicate with them. They also could well be the people who could communicate the animal out of danger so it could be a win-win for all involved. Harambe, like all other gorillas and numerous other zoo-ed animals, are highly intelligent and emotional beings who depend on us to respect and value their cognitive capacities that could well be put to use in potentially dangerous situations. Clearly, knowing about the behavior of each animal, as an individual with a unique personality, is essential for the well-being of every captive being.
We can't undo Harambe's death but we can and must, ask these sorts of questions. We also must be sure that all zoo personnel are prepared for unexpected emergencies and are adequately trained to respond where lives are on the line, because killing Harambe is a tragedy that could have been avoided.
Analyzing Harambe's Behavior After He Met the Child
There seems to be no reason to think that Harambe was going to harm the young boy who fell into his enclosure. I know how serious this situation is so let me be clear that this is a horrible situation and I know that people make split decisions they often come to regret. But I still am not convinced that Harambe could not have been tranquilized and that regular rescue drills centering on this sort of event could have resulted in Harambe still being alive and the little boy being returned to safety.
I don't know much more about the behavior of gorillas than I read in texts and research papers, so I asked my friend Jennifer Miller some questions, as she has worked with these amazing beings. Jennifer wrote in an email, "Harambe's movements and positions during the encounter presented nothing more than curiosity and protection for an unfamiliar child inside his environment. What I learned from studying captive Western Lowland gorillas at the Cleveland Zoo was that they are deep contemplators. They are observers more than reactive aggressors. They move their eyes, lips and heads slowly to communicate through subtle movements. They are rarely vocal and rarely dramatically expressive. Even when threatened by other gorillas, an individual will choose to avoid confrontation more often than engage in harmful behaviors. In avoidance gorillas often run past other individuals beating their chest, stand still on all four limbs biting their lips or they will hit a wall/tree/anything close and then run off. The only protection that Harambe had that day was the zoo enclosure he was locked into. That protection was violated by the human public, at which point Harambe became unprotected and was more at risk than the child. He did not stand a chance at human forgiveness as soon as the child entered his enclosure. And the proof lays in the bullet that shot him dead."
Ms. Miller goes on, "Harambe's hold on the child and his sheltering of the child inside his stance, are all indications of protection. Harambe did not view this most unexpected encounter through a lens of fear. Not only was Harambe examining the child in front of him but he was also attentive to the other changes in his environment—the movement of the crowd, the communication between mother and child, the positioning of strangers in areas of his exhibit where they are not normally."
I'm thrilled that the four-year old boy survived, but like many others, I too wonder why Harambe was killed, rather than tranquilized. I've listened to all of the reasons why he was killed but don't see that it was necessary.
Why the Extra Media Hype About Killing an Animal but "Business as Usual" for Human Shootouts?
Ms. Miller also noted, "Some media reports claim that Harambe aggressively dragged the child through the water. Nothing can be further from the truth. This type of behavior—"dragging through the water"—is common. Adult gorillas commonly do this to one another and to their offspring, in which case the infant gorilla typically climbs up the adult to avoid the ground. A human child would not know to do this, but that does not justify defining a normal non-aggressive behavior as aggressive."
I also am interested in how media covered this event. For example, on some national news programs on TV the evening of Sunday, May 29, the story of Harambe was immediately followed by a report on a shootout in Houston, Texas in which two people were killed and six injured. What was incredibly apparent was the tone of the voice of the reporters. When Harambe's story was told the reporter was wired and breathless as she reported the incident, noting that Harambe simply had to be killed to save the boy. When the next reporter told the story of the horrific Houston shootout her voice was calm and came across as something like, "Oh well, here we go again—another mass killing—business as usual." I was shocked and later that evening I watched a few other news shows with the same trend being rather obvious. I talked with a few people and without exception they also saw that type of image being presented, one that surely didn't do much for Harambe's image.
Zoo-ed Animals and Their Total Losses of Freedoms
Another point many people make is that animals like Harambe should not be kept in zoos in the first place. I totally agree, but this discussion at this point deflects attention from the event at the Cincinnati Zoo that could have and should have been avoided. In the best of all possible worlds Harambe would not have lived as a caged animal and the little boy would not have violated the safety of Harambe's home. The case of all zoo-ed animals must be openly discussed because their lives are so horrifically compromised and numerous freedoms lost as they are forced to live in small cages for human entertainment (please see, for example, What Zoos Need to Do for Zoo’d Animals, Is Going to a Zoo Like Shopping for a Car? Musical Semen and What Do Zoos Teach about Biodiversity and Does it Matter?).
All in all, Harambe's freedoms were taken from him the moment he was born into captivity and his protection taken from him when his space was violated by human activities. While it's most likely that Harambe and other animals kept in cages in zoos would prefer to be free, it's also likely that he viewed his cage as his home and felt safe in familiar environs.
Let's remember in head and heart that Harambe was killed for being forced to live in a cage for some human's, not his own, benefit and because it was thought he might harm the child for coming into his home. He was killed for doing what many of us might do in a similar situation, but it still remains highly questionable that Harambe had to be killed.
Let's Be Sure Harambe Did Not Die in Vain
Harambe is gone forever, but what happened to him can and must be used to make certain that events like this never happen again. As I mentioned above, there is global concern about Harambe's death and people who never before have been involved in "animal issues" have weighed in on what happened to him. We can only hope that Harambe, like Cecil the lion who was trophy murdered by a rich dentist from the U.S. and Marius, a young giraffe who was killed at the Copenhagen Zoo because he was deemed to be disposable because his genes were no longer useful, will remain in people's hearts and this will lead to a rapid termination of killing animals when it is utterly unnecessary and wrong. All sorts of media can help this movement along and foster peaceful coexistence between humans and nonhumans.
Harambe and Binta Jua Revisited
In the end, Harambe's own sense of security was violated, as was Binta Jua's. However, Binta Jua survived and was hailed worldwide as a heroine, whereas Harambe was killed and his death is being criticized and carefully scrutinized globally. Let's hope that something like this never happens again.
Note: Carol Gigliotti's comment captures much of what others and I are writing about: The underlying issue is the way we treat animals in general, as objects for our use and I felt that blaming the mother of the child, for this admittedly tragic instance, obscured and muddled that underlying issue. Breeding an animal to live out their life in a zoo and then wondering why untoward things happen when people, in this unfortunate case, a small boy, intrude on the only home they know is the actual problem in this and many other situations involving animals.
This article was originally published on Psychology Today.
Marc Bekoff is professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is the co-founder, with Jane Goodall, of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a fellow of the Animal Behavior Society and a former Guggenheim fellow. Marc's latest books are Jasper's Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence, and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). For more information, visit marcbekoff.com. Follow Marc on Twitter @MarcBekoff.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The U.S. reported more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, in a sign that the outbreak is not letting up as the Fourth of July weekend kicks off.
- The U.S. Isn't in a Second Wave of Coronavirus – The First Wave ... ›
- Navajo Nation Has Highest Covid-19 Infection Rate in the U.S. ... ›
- U.S. Coronavirus Cases Top 2 Million as All 50 States Start ... ›
By Jason Bruck
Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
- Drone Footage Captures Rare Finless Porpoises in Hong Kong ... ›
- Brazil's Amazon River Dolphin Faces Extinction After Fishing ... ›
- 10 Surprising Dolphin 'Superpowers' - EcoWatch ›
Sunscreen pollution is accelerating the demise of coral reefs globally by causing permanent DNA damage to coral. gonzalo martinez / iStock / Getty Images Plus
On July 29, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a controversial bill prohibiting local governments from banning certain types of sunscreens.
- Your Guide to Reef Friendly Sunscreens - EcoWatch ›
- Hundreds of Sunscreens Don't Work or Have Unsafe Ingredients ... ›
- FDA Study: Sunscreen Chemicals Seep Into the Bloodstream ... ›
By Kelli McGrane
Oat milk is popping up at coffee shops and grocery stores alike, quickly becoming one of the trendiest plant-based milks.
- Is Oat Milk Gluten-Free? - EcoWatch ›
- What Nutritionists Think About Starbucks' Three New Plant-Based ... ›
- 6 Alternatives to Milk: Which Is the Healthiest? - EcoWatch ›
"Emissions from pyrotechnic displays are composed of numerous organic compounds as well as metals," a new study reports. Nodar Chernishev / EyeEm / Getty Images
Fireworks have taken a lot of heat recently. In South Dakota, fire experts have said President Trump's plan to hold a fireworks show is dangerous and public health experts have criticized the lack of plans to enforce mask wearing or social distancing. Now, a new study shows that shooting off fireworks at home may expose you and your family to dangerous levels of lead, copper and other toxins.
- No Social Distancing or Mask Requirement at Trump's Mt ... ›
- Trump's Fireworks Show at Mt. Rushmore Is a Dangerous Idea, Fire ... ›
By Ashutosh Pandey
Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
- Dangerous Chemicals From E-Waste Found in Black Plastics From ... ›
- Electronic Waste Study Finds $65 Billion in Raw Materials ... ›
- Electronic Waste: New EU Rules Target Throwaway Culture ... ›
- COVID-19 Masks Are Polluting Beaches and Oceans - EcoWatch ›
- Plastic Packaging Use Increases During the Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Worsens Thailand's Plastic Waste Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Plastic Waste Polluting the Environment - EcoWatch ›