Monday, May 30, 2016

Harambe died horribly. Let's make his death count for something.


Cincinnati Zoo officials shot Harambe, a magnificent silverback gorilla, after an inquisitive child fell into the exhibit. The tragedy is painful for everyone: the person who pulled the trigger, keepers who loved and cared for Harambe, the visitors who admired him throughout his life and who witnessed the horror, the boy and his family, and the other gorillas in Harambe’s close-knit group.

It isn’t the first time that zoo keepers have had to deal with this kind of horrible experience. In 1996, a boy fell into the gorilla exhibit at Brookfield Zoo. Ten years earlier, a boy fell into the gorilla exhibit at Jersey Zoo, in the United Kingdom.

Many experts believe that Harambe was not trying to harm the boy; but zoo officials should not be put in the position of having to make the choice to kill. It is time for zoos to make zoos safer for their gorillas and other great apes.

Through the decades, zoos have evolved from entertainment arenas to educational facilities dedicated to improving the visitor “experience” and encouraging wildlife conservation. I hope people will sign a petition urging zoos to evolve again, into organizations that put protection of animal welfare above all other considerations. They must make ape exhibits childproof and “dummy-proof” (for those drunk or deluded visitors who imagine they have some sort of special connection with animals). This petition urges the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and specifically the Gorilla Species Survival Program, to raise exhibit standards to “impenetrable,” to improve the welfare and protect the lives of the apes under their care. This petition further urges the Gorilla SSP to be transparent and inform the public of their decisions on this issue.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Unlocking the cage?

An intriguing movie will open in theaters this June. Unlocking the Cage is the story of lawyer Steven Wise's struggle to obtain legal rights for non-humans, especially chimpanzees.

There is no question Wise's cause is just. Many, many animal experts wish we could take chimpanzees (and orcas and elephants, etc., etc.) out of harmful captive situations. But is the American society ready to grant legal rights to non-human primates? Is that the fight we want to take on right now? I have to admit that I would feel more comfortable about the movie's premise (and the legal effort's prospects) if it didn't prominently feature Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, who has a record of loony beliefs, including her assertion that bonobos can talk. (See What the hell is going on at the Great Ape Trust?)

Unlocking the Cage may have the tremendous impact of Blackfish. Alternatively, it could set back efforts to get research and pet chimps into sanctuaries, especially if it shows Steven and Sue going off the deep end. I sincerely hope it's the former.