In recent news, a 17-year-old male gorilla, Harambe, was shot and killed by police at the Cincinnati Zoo after a 3-year-old boy fell into the animal’s enclosure. Since the incident, over 300,000 people have signed a petition insisting that the parents of the child are at fault, and social media users have been conveying their rage, grief and disappointment with hashtags like #justiceforharambe and #ripharambe.
While feelings of shock and sorrow are valid, this situation demonstrates a societal neglect of generally transparent truths: Harambe was already suffocated by injustice and we kill hundreds of thousands of sentient beings daily for our own pleasure.
To understand Harambe’s perpetual neglect, it’s important to analyze the nature of his environment. A zoo is a quasi-pageant,and Harambe was the queen. In other words, the concept of zoo-going encourages people to pay money to gawk at beings not much different from themselves. Meanwhile, the exhibited animals are displaced from their natural habitat and deprived of freedom.
This is indicative of the wide-spread grief over Harambe’s death. We are taught to marvel over zoo animals, and in doing so we forget–or consciously refute–the omnipresent ridiculousness of it all. Because Harambe’s purpose as an animal was similar to that of Beyonce’s as a human, his death was deemed worthy of agony.
Although primates like gorillas are most similar to humans in physical makeup, it is unfair to argue the life of a gorilla is more relevant than the life of a pig or cow. According to a study by Emory University, pigs “share a number of cognitive capacities” with dogs, primates, dolphins, elephants and humans. But because pigs taste good, we don’t question our morals when mass-murdering them.
If we view beings for what they are–bodies of atoms–it becomes easier to understand our deep, inevitable togetherness and our utter wrongdoing in treating animals and their byproducts as food or a source of entertainment. We are all combinations of oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus. We are all cosmic oddities. We are all worthy of living, as we are alive in an observable universe that, to our knowledge, sustains no other form of live.
It’s not wrong to react to Harambe’s death, but it is morally incomplete to not extend this concern to other suffering beings. In order to do so, we should deemphasize the validity of zoos as a venue for entertainment and be more transparent about the treatment of livestock animals. We must equalize the value of all lives because we are all, by nature of the Universe, equal.