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Teachable Moments: The Harambe Tragedy

Many of us have been mourning the painful loss of Harambe over the weekend. People are understandably angry about the situation: wanting something done to the parents or to the zookeepers who had to make the horrifying decision to shoot an endangered animal. It’s easy to point fingers, demand accountability, and rally to vigilante justice. However, to focus only on blame misses a more important lesson. Though it’s sad that zookeepers had to kill a beloved and rare animal, the real tragedy is how endangered this species has become.

The western lowland gorilla’s range has been decimated by human activity. What were once remote parts of the rainforest have now been subject to logging, ranching, and development. Despite numerous regulations against poaching, gorillas are still hunted for sport and for their meat. What may have been a population that once numbered in the millions, there are now likely less than 100,000 individual gorillas in existence. Dozens of these gorillas, just as magnificent and as important as Harambe, are killed every month due to poaching and the destruction of their habitat.

In light of the uproar, fights, and rants in all forms of media this week in Cincinnati and across the country, I’d ask the readers, where is your outrage over these much more common deaths? Do we threaten the companies who cut down acres of rainforest? Do we rise to activism to stop poachers from killing gorillas? Aren’t we hypocritical if we are not moved at the hundreds of gorillas that die each year for reasons that could be avoided?

What happened last Saturday was heartbreaking, but we cannot be fooled into becoming enraged only because we knew Harambe personally. Though we cannot see the gorillas that are killed thousands of miles away, their deaths are just as significant. If we are to mourn Harambe’s death, then we must also mourn for the countless number of gorillas living in the wild who are killed every day.

What makes this death feel so senseless is that it feel like it should have been avoided. But so too could the loss of so many gorillas in the wild. A bullet may have killed Harambe but it has been society’s inability to use our resources sustainably that has killed hundreds of thousands of his kind.

If you grieve for Harambe as I have, I encourage you not to seek justice for his death, but to be active in saving the rest of his species. Support conservation organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund and ensure that you purchase wood products that are not sourced from rainforests. Harambe’s caretaker of 15 years has started the Harambe Fund to protect other western lowland gorillas which needs your support as well.

Let’s use this as an opportunity to have a conversation about what we can do together to save these beautiful animals.

This article was originally published in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

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