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Harambe, Wildlife and Human Compassion

I love wildlife. Could you possibly tell? I am the girl who paints animals. 

This hobby of mine comes from a place of pure appreciation. I am fascinated and so wildly in awe of everything about wildlife, all species, none, no matter what size, instincts or habits they behold go without my adoration. I live in wonder at how such creatures could be of such flawless and spectacular design. Millions of years of adaptation has created so much supremacy and beauty, species that slot perfectly into their environments and know exactly how to live as a default setting. Having been moulded by evolution over such a vast period of time adds to the insanity yet absolute logic of such perfection.  All the way from a stick insect, over to a silverback gorilla.

Gorillas are my favourite species of wildlife. They are my all time favourite to paint. I love their build, their intellect, their expressive faces. I love both their strength and sensitivity, their protective nature and fierce instincts. I just love them. But I do not visit them in zoos. I do not care to see them this way.

Sadly, as I had planned to write a post of appreciation of gorillas as a species, the news broke about the shooting of Harambe. It is with such a heavy heart to move my discussion over toward a different setting.

Harambe had to be killed in this instance. I believe the zoo keepers must have tried all that they could to lure him away from the child who recently found his way into the enclosure of the gorilla family to which Harambe was the leader. I believe the loss of this creature is so painful and heartbreaking to those who had to make this decision to kill him. I understand the tranquillisers were a gamble and could have angered him/caused accidental injury to the child whilst in a state of panic or drowsiness. I understand their decisions, actions and believe they did the right thing. The child was in grave danger by being within the home of a family of gorillas.

Of course the child  should not have been in this enclosure. (So many points of blame: Enclosure design flaws? Human error? Parental negligence?) But most importantly, the gorillas should not have been in this enclosure either. Gorillas are by no means always ‘gentle giants’ but that is neither important nor to their fault. They are simply gorillas, a beautiful and strong primate. Because of Harambe’s potential strength and power, he was killed in this situation, however being killed for having the instincts to protect his family, and inquisitively attend the situation of an intruder in his home should not be the circumstance for the death of such a critically endangered animal.

Harambe showed clear signs of aggravation, but not of feeling threatened (no chest beating or vocal screaming as they do when angered). If Harambe wanted to intensionally hurt this child, ten minutes in this enclosure with him would be no time at all. A 400 pound male silverback, leader of his family and protector of his habitat could have killed the child in a mere matter of moments. instead he dragged him, moved him around, stood him up and assessed him. Whatever his intentions were, (widely debated from sizing up the child, to showing signs of protecting him from the screams of people above) this child wouldn’t have been able to withstand even playful and caring gestures for long, as Harambe was still a wild animal, not fully capable of knowing the fragility of the child in comparison to a baby gorilla, but also not needing to, as this situation should never have been before him in the first place.

I have many issues with zoos. Ever since regularly seeing a solitary, sad polar bear enclosure at a certain zoo with painted ice caps I have felt heavy hearted at the thought of these animals being locked in small spaces away from the environments they have adapted over millions of years to prosper in. As well as being able to see the opposing side in favour of. I appreciate that some often do work towards conservation and education, however all this shows me is that it is possible to work on the fleeting species to bring them back to abundant numbers. However must this be in an enclosure only a minute fraction of the size of the habitats they were born to thrive and bound around in? Must we lock up a few in order to make humans understand?  Are we that detached and indifferent as a species that we cannot reach conclusions without oogling at an animal for our speculative entertainment and a sizeable profit?

I would be happy to never see an exotic wild animal in real life, ever again. If this meant that all wildlife could thrive in the places they were meant to exist.

We see animals as a product for our disposal. We keep them in enclosures with trees painted on the walls for us to leisurely watch. We let the most magnificent of sea mammals jump around on command for our entertainment. We hunt them down for our own sense of pride and trophy. We cruelly and unnaturally breed them for our own consumption. We transfer them from zoo to zoo under the guise of conservation to turn over an immeasurable profit.

We are so quick to forget that humans are a species of mammal. Yes we are of higher brain capacity, strong emotional ranges with diverse and brilliant intellect. We are however not superior. We are not more worthy of life. Humans chase happiness as a birth given right, to enjoy their life and time on the planet, yet can easily disregard the welfare of neighbouring species. How can we be so ignorant to being of such close origins to other living things? Most have skeletons of sorts, forms of skin, pores, vital organs, nervous systems, ways of reaching the world around them through senses. (sight, smells, tastes) We all breath in ways, eat, clean and pro-create. Despite many dissimilarities in design, on the larger scale we are all of same origin and same expiration.

The case of Harmabe, Cecile and all other zoo/human related incidents of recent times are just a tiny fraction of a larger scale. But the shame above all else is the lack of compassion, and the sense of importance that humans assign themselves over our wildlife, our co-habitors of the same planet. 

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3 Comments

  1. Kyle Murphy says

    You’re right that what it comes down to is that the situation never should have been in place where the life of a Gorilla would be weighed against the life of a child. (hope this doesn’t double post, got an error message on the first try).

  2. Beautiful piece. I couldn’t agree more. Gorillas, elephants, Dolphins are arguably just as intelligent if not more advanced in different empathetic neural pathways. They belong in the wild, period. Beautiful, thoughtful words and gorgeous art.

    Much love and light,

    Landon
    imatriarch.com

  3. Thoughtfully written , beautiful paintings and yes emotive by the last word I was crying your compassion and empathy for these gorgeous creatures is evident. I agree with all you have said these beautiful creatures should be in the wild or at least in a conservation area large enough for them to behave in a more natural way. One of my favourite places is Monkey World in Dorset U the creatures there are rescued looked after and they are not for our entertainment more Zoos should work in this way but sadly it won’t happen in my lifetime.

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