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Intersection of Life and Faith

Should Zoo Have Killed Harambe the Gorilla?

  • Jim Denison Denison Forum on Truth and Culture
  • 2016 1 Jun
Should Zoo Have Killed Harambe the Gorilla?


Harambe was a 450-pound western lowland gorilla. He was born in Texas and moved to Cincinnati two years ago, where zoo keepers hoped he would father more gorillas.

Now Harambe is dead, killed by the zoo's Dangerous Animal Response Team last Saturday after a four-year-old boy fell into his habitat. Witnesses said the gorilla was handling the child "like a Raggedy Ann doll in his grip" and threatening his life.

Nonetheless, Harambe's death infuriated animal rights activists, many of whom blamed the mother. Ricky Gervais tweeted, "It seems that some gorillas make better parents than some people." John Fugelsang added, "If I ever let my toddler fall into a gorilla enclosure please leave the gorilla alone and just shoot me." 

Others criticized the zoo for erecting barriers the child could breach. They also claimed that zoo keepers should have tried to rescue the child or tranquilize the animal. One group has even filed a federal negligence complaint against the zoo.

The furor grew so loud that the zoo called a press conference to defend itself. Zoo director Thane Maynard explained: "We are heartbroken about losing Harambe, but a child's life was in danger and a quick decision had to be made." 

He noted that the barriers passed regular checks by an accrediting agency and had not been breached since the exhibit opened in 1978. Zoo keepers had no time to rescue the child, since the screams of the crowd escalated the situation and forced an immediate response. They could not tranquilize the gorilla, since darts often agitate the animal before taking effect and can take as much as ten minutes to put a gorilla to sleep.

Here's my question: If zoo keepers attempted to save both the gorilla and the child, but the boy was killed, how would the critics have responded?

This story will probably fade from the news quickly, but the larger narrative it illustrates is with us to stay. Princeton ethicist Peter Singer rejects the worldview that gives preferential value to humans over animals or other species. He also supports "mutually satisfying" sexual activities between people and animals, a movement that is gaining in popularity (for more, see my Three Shocking Stories and the Hope of Scripture). Atheist Richard Dawkins likewise criticizes our "Christian-inspired attitudes" that favor humans over other species.

Of course, the Bible directly refutes this relativistic worldview. Humans are uniquely created in God's own image (Genesis 1:27) with dominion "over all the earth" (v. 26) as stewards of creation (Genesis 2:15). But if there are no absolute truths (which is an absolute truth claim), the Bible becomes a diary of religious experiences, not God's authoritative revelation.

Why does this issue matter to you today? For this simple reason: if human life possesses no intrinsic, unique worth, the moral foundations of our culture are removed. 

Abortion is only the beginning. Euthanasia—both voluntary and involuntary—is coming as well. Will we see the legalization of all sexual relationships? Of all marriage relationships? Of any behavior deemed to be consensual and "mutually satisfying"? When objective rules are an outdated concept, how can we enforce the rule of law?

Here's the good news: "You are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:31). In fact, God considered your eternal life worth the death of his Son. Jesus would do it all again, just for you.

Will you value others as God values you?

Publication date: June 1, 2016


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