The recent killing of an African Lowland gorilla, Harambe, at Cincinnati Zoo, has gotten a lot of attention. He was shot because a four year old child fell into his enclosure. I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of the situation, because what’s done is done and talking or blaming won’t bring Harambe back. Though there is definitely a discussion to be had on racism in the media and the population at large in how they reacted.
Less than 24 hours later, another captive African Lowland Gorilla died, this time after a short illness, in Dublin Zoo. His name was Harry and left behind his partner, Lena, who now seems to be grieving.
And now I’m getting to the point of this post. It was a thought I had after hearing of the two deaths, and it was emphasised to me again after reading this email from Jane Goodall. What about the other gorillas? Do they get to mourn their loss? What will happen to them now? Are their hearts breaking?
And I don’t mean, what new arrangements will be made for them by the zoo authorities. This article goes into the logistics of gorilla matchmaking and breeding. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about loss and bereavement. I know nothing about gorilla behaviour, in captivity or the wild. And I wonder what happens to dead gorillas in the wild. What happens to the bodies. Are they left there? Are they tended to by their families? In captivity, I assume the bodies are removed and buried somewhere (but not without removing and freezing semen!) or probably cremated. Or are they stuffed for an exhibit?
What happens to Harry and Harambe now they are dead? What happens to their friends and families?
And, again, I question why gorillas are kept in zoos in the first place. Which is the subject of this article. Can genetic diversity not be provided for by tranquilizing wild male gorillas and then collecting and freezing their semen? If you can do it to a dead gorilla…
When I was 12, I went to the zoo with my sisters. It was to be the last time I set foot in one in years. Because, we visited the gorilla, a single female if I recall correctly. Might even have been Lena, though before she met Harry. In any case, I remember staring into that gorilla’s eyes and becoming overwhelmed with sadness. I could feel her loneliness through the bars. And so I swore off zoos. Until my son wanted to visit one when he was three. Which I gave into, and we managed to skip the gorillas.
Harambe (also spelled Harambee) is a Kenyan word that means ‘ together in spirit ‘. I learnt this years ago, when I asked the Kenyan lady who owns the charity shop on my street of about the name of her shop. So, I say, let us work together in spirit with the African Lowland Gorillas and find a way to protect them in the wild, and stop them languishing and dying in our zoos.
[image of the outside of a charity shop. A painted sign reads: “Harambee” with the words ‘Together in spirit’ underneath. Visible is the shop window, and various items for sale both inside and outside the shop, including dresses, shoes, a high hair and a pushchair. There are photos of Kenyan orphans in the window, with Irish flags painted on their foreheads with face paint. They are smiling. ]