Shaming, sexism and a call for zoo abolition in the aftermath of Harambe’s death

cw: animal cruelty, sexism

On May 28th, 17 year old gorilla Harambe was shot and killed at Cincinnati Zoo after a child fell into Harambe’s enclosure. At ASC, we were devastated when we heard the news. Video footage shows Harambe protecting the child. There has also been evidence of gorillas protecting young children in the past – in 1986, Jambo protected five year old Levan Merritt and in 1996 Binti Jua cradled an unconscious child until staff arrived. These incidents show cross-species empathy and care for others – yet Cincinnati Zoo stand by their decision to shoot Harambe.

Over the next few days, the parents of the child were continually shamed and derided online. The blame focused on Michelle Gregg, the child’s mother. Hateful sexist memes were created like this one – (text reads: I was killed because a bitch wasnt watching her child).


It is important to note that this misogyny is also speciesist – calling a womxn a bitch promotes and maintains a system of othering: other than womxn, other than man, other than human. Memes like this support the life of *some* animals, but suggest that womxn are objects that deserve aggressive slurs.

Reports followed that Gregg was at the zoo with three other children. As a person who has grown up with four younger siblings, I can understand how a child can easily slip away from supervision (we once lost my then-six year old brother on holiday in Spain at a market… he had gone back to a park he liked without telling us. I have never felt so panicked). A court ruled this week that there will be no charges brought against the parents. Continuing to place blame on the parents (and specifically Michelle Gregg) will only continue to cause the family further stress.

Other critics focused on the poor structure and security of the enclosure. Both of these complaints deflect focus away from the core of the problem: zoos are prisons. Zoos take away freedom from animals, putting them in small, artificial environments and parading them in front of thousands of humans for human entertainment and profit. ASC know the arguments – the importance of conservation and protection from danger are examples. But where does that danger come from? Hunting, and the destruction of natural habitat. By humans.

Animals in zoos present abnormal repetitive stress behaviours such as pacing, rocking and biting from being confined in enclosures. Animals in zoos become bored and depressed, and some are medicated or tranquilized because they are so unhappy. From the shock of Harambe’s death, we ask that readers question the necessity of zoos. We ask that you consider life behind enclosure windows for living beings like lowland gorillas – animals that care enough to protect human children and are exploited and killed in return.

~ elecia

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