anne mikolay 2012 120The recent killing of Harambe, a 17 year old gorilla in the Cincinnati Zoo, has stirred hot debate. As you know, zoo officials shot the primate to save a three year old boy who had fallen into the gorilla pen. Critics are appalled at the incident and ask why officials chose to kill Harambe rather than to tranquilize him. Some hold the zoo responsible; others hold the child’s mother responsible. Everybody from actress Kaley Cuoco, who called the killing “senseless”, to Donald Trump, who supports the zoo’s actions, has an opinion. Who, then, should be held responsible for this horrifying accident?

Zoo officials and animal experts have stated that Harambe’s posture and behavior forewarned of impending harm to the boy, though the internet is rife with contradiction. I don’t know anything about primates, zoo keeping, or veterinary medicine; thus, I can’t offer an informed opinion on the Cincinnati Zoo’s choice to kill Harambe. However, as a mother, if my child fell into the arms of a 450 pound gorilla, I would hope the zookeeper would quickly do whatever was necessary to save my child. And if that meant shooting Harambe, then so be it. When zoo experts say animal tranquilizers would not have taken effect quickly enough to save the child from harm, I have to believe them. I have no choice but to support their decision. I do not hold the Cincinnati Zoo responsible.

I hold the mother responsible.

This was a three year old child, a curious, little boy naturally devoid of judgment or fear. Of course, when the little one told his mother that he wanted to swim with the gorilla, she had no reason to believe the child would actually attempt to do so. That does not, however, diminish her responsibility for his safety. That boy should have been holding his mother’s hand, or at the very least, clutching the side of the stroller (the mother reportedly had several children with her). Surely no parent expects his/her child to crawl beyond a zoo barrier and fall into a gorilla pen! It sounds like the stuff of theater! But life teaches us the impossible, the unthinkable, does happen. Why on earth, then, would any parent allow a child to wander away, especially in a public place in close proximity to wild animals?

All parents make mistakes. Blink and your baby climbs out of his high chair. Let go of the child’s hand for a second, and he trips and falls. There’s no academic preparation for being a mom or a dad; nobody gets an “A” in parenting. But certain transgressions marked by a lack of common sense are unforgivable. For example, in Japan this weekend, misguided parents left their seven year old son by the side of the road in bear country as punishment for throwing stones at cars. The child has been missing ever since. How does putting a child in danger teach him/her a lesson? And how is taking your eyes off a three year old in any setting securing the toddler's wellbeing? In all things, parents MUST be vigilant.

The public is crying out for justice for Harambe. That justice should be served through holding the mother responsible and investigating for negligence.