What parents can learn from the Harambe tragedy

What parents can learn from the Harambe tragedy
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As you may have heard by now, a silver back endangered gorilla named Harambe was killed at the Cincinnati Zoo this past weekend when a 4 year old boy navigated through the safety barriers and fell into the enclosure.


And the mother of the boy, Michelle Gregg, is facing a barrage of hate and accusations of neglect in retaliation. There’s even a Change.org petition with more than 55,000 signatures (as of 11:25 p.m. ET 5/29) to  hold her responsible in the death of Harambe and to have a child services investigation opened for the children in her care.

Let’s take a brief step back and recap the events.

According to witnesses, the boy verbally announces he wants to get inside the exhibit to get closer to the gorillas.

He then goes under, over and through all of the safety barriers and falls approximately 10 feet into the enclosure.

At which point the gorilla ‘grabs’ the boy.harambe

Here is where stories get conflicted, but as I’ve seen the footage of this, I will relay my version of the preceding events: The gorilla pulls the boy under him and faces the loud screams coming from above head on. He then moves himself and the child behind a wall (cliff like surface) further away from the noise.

I’ll help you with a visual depiction you may be more familiar with: You and your toddler are walking on the sidewalk down a street. You have your toddler by the hand but he his pulling, squirming, wants to get to the other side of the road because something grabbed his attention. He breaks free, so you chase after him and quickly grab your toddler from behind with your hand on his chest and pull him to your legs as a car zips only a few inches from you both. You then move both yourself and your child several feet back from the edge of the sidewalk further away from the danger. You are in control, you saw the threat of the cars in the road, you protected by “grabbing” and pulling your child beneath you. You protected your child. 

Back to Harambe. He was protecting a child from a perceived threat. Period. Yes, he ran and dragged the boy along. Yes, he is 400 pounds and incredibly dangerous.  No, he did not attack the boy.

Witnesses called Zoo officials and 911. The Dangerous Animal Response Team was called to the scene.

Harambe was shot with a rifle and he died.

His death was tragic and unnecessary in my opinion of the video footage and I wholeheartedly believe that they failed by every definition of the word. I also believe there was ample opportunity to stop the boy given the numerous safety barriers; and that is on the mother. I will NOT be signing the petition though, because I don’t think hanging the mother off of a mistake that could have happened to any single one of us is the right action. And do you know what she probably feels right now? Immense guilt, and relief, and fear, and happiness, and more! And just maybe a child services investigation prying into her home after a traumatic day is not the best solution here.

We, as parents, can learn a lot from this tragic event.

  1. Our children require constant supervision. Yes, you want to give your child room to experience the world on his own and learn his limits. No, you can’t lose focus for even 1 second. Even if you’re not looking directly at your child, you need to know where they are, what they are doing, and what decisions they are about to make. But let’s be real here, that’s not always going to happen. Because, life. Particularly if you have more than one child in your care at any given time. You can try to predict the future and know every hair out of place, but that doesn’t stop your threenager from breaking into your makeup and emerging as Christina Aguilera circa 2003.
  2. People will judge us no matter what we do or don’t do. Does it matter what she did or didn’t do to prevent this? Does it matter if she was actively watching him and he managed to squeeze through areas she couldn’t in order to stop him? Does it matter if she breastfed him as an infant or formula fed? Does it matter if she coslept with him or he has his own room? No, none of it matters because she is a mother, and mothers get blamed for every action their child takes regardless of whether they tried to prevent it or encouraged it.
  3. We will screw up. Michelle messed up. I’m sure she knows it. I messed up yesterday when I knowingly put my son in flip flops that were too big and difficult to walk in and I told him to walk to the car. He immediately tried to walk down cement stairs and fell flat on his face and scraped up his knees. No, it didn’t result in the death of an endangered species, but that’s not the last time I’m going to mess up. I would hope that when I do, I don’t have the calvary out for my head calling me a negligent mother.*

Harambe died tragically. A 4 year old boy was put in an extremely dangerous situation and he is lucky to be alive. The zoo and its employees, the boy and his family, the entire gorilla community, they all had a really tough day. Let’s not add it to it by turning more of their lives upside down. Let’s just reflect on what it is: a tragic and frightening day for every person and animal involved.


*If it comes to light that this mother is in fact negligent and has an unfit home for her children, then this terrible event comes with a blessing. Harambe would  have protected this child in life and death as an investigation into their home would have never happened had it not been for this outcome. 

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3 thoughts on “What parents can learn from the Harambe tragedy”

  • The other thing no one is really mentioning is how the heck a 4-year-old COULD get into the enclosure. I mean, my kids are crazy climbers and such, but you’d think that even if a mom got distracted, it SHOULD be too hard for a 4-year-old to get into any enclosure. Period. But no one is talking about this, just blaming the mom.

    I also think he seemed very protective of the boy in the video and it’s very sad he’s dead. But recently there was a tiger attack (the difference being a clear attack) in a US zoo and they chose to use tranquilizers. The woman died. There are many differences in the circumstances, but I think the best policy in this kind of situation (which you hope would NEVER happen), is if pushed, preserve human life. But I hate that it came to that. I do.

  • This honestly made me so sad.

    Now, I’ll say that I’m not a mother. I’m also not an animals activitist (I mean, maybe with the exception that I’ve been making the transition to Cruelty Free makeup). HOWEVER, the first thought that came to my mind is this (and it might be rambly so I apologize in advance:

    This poor animal. He was taken from the wild (so I assume) and raised in an enclosure that’s just big enough to where he doesn’t go crazy. We take our friends and family to take photos and see the animals, but even that is sort of disrespectful to them. I understand that zoos can be good, as they can help preserve animal species and public admission allows them to raise money to care for the animals, but to what extent are we really doing them any good? I mean, yes, these animals are alive and we try to get them to mate, but will they ever go back home, where their presence was (once/still) necessary for their ecosystem to thrive?

    Then, another part thinks about how zoos, no matter how ‘altruistic’ their stance may be, are still a capitalistic business venture. Because human beings see ourselves as top-tier animals and choose to use other animals as entertainment, this Gorilla was put down simply because he was doing what he would do in the wild.

    It just makes me very sad that all of this didn’t necessarily need to happen at all. Honestly, I am looking into zoos and what their practices are and the ethics of them because I don’t know if I can walk into one anytime soon and not feel that sadness for Harambe’s death and the imprisonment of all animals for the sake of entertainment (I mean, there are conservatories).


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