By Jeff Koopersmith

Harmabe an orphan boy
Harmabe an orphan boy

Harambe is a Swahili name meaning; working together, pulling together, helping each other, caring, and sharing. Today, like Can Van Coppenolle of Texas who named Harambe, I am listening to Rita Marley sing the song “Harambe” on as I write. https://youtu.be/GlQgC5IyPHw

To begin, let me tell you that I write children’s books about endangered animals that, along with us, solve their problems.  I adore animals but I do not expect others to do so in the way I do. Mine is an unusual identification with animals and especially those who are alone from brutality.

Yet, I believe, with all my heart, that Zoos should be stripped from society.

At one time, zoo may have been needed, but because today technology has allowed us to see any animal, large or small, in such detail as to make zoos almost non-credible. Try instead to observe living animals on television or better, your computer for unmatched depth and wider coverage via the Internet.

To my mind Zoos should all be closed because the living things in them suffer poor quality lives, no matter how the zoo tells you otherwise.

They do not live in their habitats, nor do they eat what they should, or what they would if they were home in the wild. They do not have enough space, or they have too much space. They are often close to animals they do not take a fancy to, or too far from animals and plants they naturally like.

They are often treated badly, although we all think workers are kind at zoos – that is not always true.  Just ask Shamu the whale.

Whichever case you might make – animals do not belong in cages for our amusement nor our education.  Some of the greatest tragedies in history have used that same excuse, but it is a falsity much as your being a cage would be.

This is not the 17th Century where we could not possibly go everywhere on earth to see special creatures; it is the 21st Century where the best biologists and filmmakers can bring you directly to those animals.

That, when weighed against animal anguish, marks my case.

If you are wealthy enough you can mount a safari, but even then you will see only those creatures who allow you to see them. And you won’t see them in a natural pose or place most times.

Our instant lost friend, the Great Ape Harambe, is a superlative example of why we should not retain animals in zoos or enclosures of any kind. A fence perhaps, to protect us from the more violent ones and them from us – but nothing more than that.

I entreat you.

There is, in June of 2016, worldwide an ongoing quarrel re Harambe the silver back gorilla who was shot to death in America this week in order to insure a little boy’s life.

Harambe was only 17 years old.  He might have lived to over fifty.  The boy, on the other hand was human and could live until 90 or even 100. Both could have lived, and I believe both would have lived except for panic.

The boy, still in pre-school, had somehow fallen into the Harambe’s zoo setting in a Gorilla enclosure where a kind of river exists. That river was only a foot deep it appears.

The child by some means made his way under a ridiculously defectively designed and dangerous fence for safety purposes over the gorilla space that any adult could jump, or crawl under as well as the three-year-old boy, the son of Deonne Dickerson and Michelle Gregg who have been heavily criticized for not watching their son more carefully.

The boy was not markedly hurt as he landed near Harambe in water within the ape outdoor enclosure, and all the photos show the gorilla, as might be expected, for a great ape like this held in human captivity for 17 years, to be relatively and calm except at one point where he tugged the boy, pulling him from harm, by his thinking – his reaction to screaming crowds, who were worried that Harambe might eat the boy, but to Harambe they were simply shouting people who disturbed him and the boy.

Harambe was not King Kong, and yet in a way he died very much like him. He was killed by people he loved and others that sought to save those same people.

Harambe spent most of his life living in too small a space surrounded by lookie-loos shouting at him, throwing things at him, and talking about him, laughing at him, or talking to him in a language he did not truly understand. There was nothing he could do but “sometimes throw mud” at visitors with little accuracy. (there was a little sign here warning zoo patrons of this mud toss)

Look at these photo of Harambe as a baby – an orphan.  Look at him sitting and looking at the cell phone photos of himself and other animals with a young man on the other side of the thick glass – who shared them with Harambe.

Harambe, puzzling over a thought
Harambe, puzzling over a thought







He had soul.

Think about Harambe looking forward to a good dinner of fruit and whatever silver back gorillas enjoy to eat.  Think about him meeting a female ape that he loves in some gorilla way, and his own children being born at another time henceforth.  Think about how sweet Harambe can look – even at 5oo pounds of muscle, slumbering in his enclosure.

Look into his eyes in these photos and tell me that every one of us is more important than he because we are not apes. We are, in so many ways, just smarter and slyer, but not more important.

Smarter and slyer.  That’s all.

I certainly understand what happened the day Harambe was murdered, but I cannot blame this not quite humanoid animal for his own death – and some people should pay for his death, no matter how “arguably” levelheaded it might have seemed to be.

It is not practical to kill an innocent but wild living thing for pleasure or for most any reason. Had Harambe growled and screamed at the boy and ran for him open mouthed – perhaps – but this was not his manner then.

Not ever.

No human is more imperative than any of God’s creatures, and no creature is more important than human beings either.  They are equal as told us from historical treatise and lore. Therefore, no animal deserves an implacable and pitiless death only to protect a human life not yet threatened.  We already kill animals by the billions each year – to eat, to amuse, and to profit from.

We kill animals to ease our hunger: to amuse our still- predator hunters.

Where was this child’s mother?  She was taking photos of her other kids and had turned away from her little son for a few seconds.  Her actions are not the reason that Harambe was murdered by the zoo or other security – it was the zoo’s own abysmal ignorance that killed the already endangered Harambe – one of only a scarce number of living silver-backs gorillas left in the world today.

It is the Zoo and zookeepers who are responsible.  They have taken these animals and shanghaied them for what they believe is a fine purpose.  It is not a fine purpose. It is an ego trip.

Yet we do not safeguard them properly. Every day one can read a report of a loose tiger or lion, or some other zoo animal shot to “protect the public”. Keeping the innocent from being shot is also part of protecting them.

How could these zoo experts – after “the 37 years” that this Gorilla exhibit has been up and running – not take care to notice that even a grown man could simply hurdle the “fence” above the replica river – a railing which was in fact only a metal bannister two and a half feet-plus high along with a horizontal length of wire below it that would stop almost nothing small from ending up tumbling down into Harambe’s river.

The shoddy fence that killed Harambe
The shoddy fence that killed Harambe

Ludicrous Fence

So much media coverage of this heartbreak now dominates are airways, yet here is not a single photo of Harambe on television, the 450-pound ape that showed us nothing but distress and protection FOR the child – not AT the child, who we are told was not injured by the gorilla at any time.

Harambe did pull the child through the water to get the boy and himself away from the screams of humanity coming from above and only adding to the ape’s confusion.  People should learn to shut up in these instances.

Harambe, who had been staring up and looking at children, adults, men and women for all his 17 years of life knew very well that this young boy, now somehow in his ape arms, was a living being and wittingly did nothing to harm the child.

But the dumbfounded head or decision-maker of the Cincinnati Zoo who decided the best thing to do then was to direct the murder of this innocent animal.  Was this done to protect the young boy or also, perhaps, to protect his job and reputation which I am putting into question today.

That shot or shots are not recorded on film, or are being hidden.  I would like to view that footage if it exists.  I would like to see some proof of the danger other than Harambe’s size.  Apes are gentle as well as rough.  I have seen them pick up a tiny thing carefully and inquisitively.  So have most of us.

What an awful thing it must have been for the child to see the big monkey, who at least seemed to amuse him more than frighten him, now shot to death within his view.

I assume the child witnessed this harsh end, but I do not know for certain. If he was not close enough to see the ape and didn’t see it – then why wasn’t the boy pulled away at that point rather than killing Harambe?

There is talk everywhere and on all sides, and gentle people on the internet are being made fun of because they seem to be profoundly upset and ready to have the boy’s mother arrested for child endangerment.

From my own upbringing and my training in law school I would say that is an open question because the child moved from the overlook and down to the exhibits river within seconds. I believe his mother is not liable for the incident. The zoo is responsible.

Evidently no one else saw boy moving toward danger and stopped him.

Where was Harambe’s keeper during this time?  That is an important question. Where was the person that this poor young ape trusted most?

There was someone he trusted, but he or she was not there – or not allowed to try to dissuade Harambe from keeping the child.

It is clear to me as an involved animal lover that no trouble seemed taken to try to entice Harambe away from the child – even though Harambe was also and evidently not aware that the child was in danger from him – But perhaps he felt he was in danger – from the people around them shouting and screaming like maniacs as if they were in the water with Harambe.

This was an awful mockery of humane justice.  Kill the ape to save the child that may not have needed saving.

It was clearly at least partly a public relations decision that could have been rightfully or mistakenly made by anyone under pressure of potentially losing a little boy’s life to an ape.  I do not blame anyone that day and those several minutes for making hasty and erroneous decisions.

Yet, when was the last time an ape ate a person in a zoo or anyone else?  I don’t know – but I, as many others, seem to see that the ape Harambe would not have injured that child purposely for almost any reason.

He had that chance for over ten minutes – Harambe’s last ten minutes of life – to do so – instead he held onto the boy – he held hands with him and the child was not screaming and crying. He too seemed to have known that Harambe did not mean him any harm, or is this my heart talking?

So where did the shooter come from?  In back of Harambe at the door just behindhand in the final photographs- or from above – a sharpshooter thinking ‘now I have the chance to kill a silver back gorilla’ – or pausing, ‘how can I kill this poor ape who is not hurting this boy?’

Whichever he thought – he went ahead with his orders.

Less than a few hundred dollars of additional fencing would have saved Harambe and the child’s predicament would never have happened.

For this the Zoo, not the mother, should be punished as the law and humaneness allows, and those responsible for zoo safety and the safety of the animals themselves should be penalized immediately – not for killing Harambe – but for allowing the tragedy to take place surely from employee negligence.

Had that boy been killed by Harambe – his parents may have sought and deserved millions in compensation from the zoo and the city or company that controls it.

Yet, in the end – as of today – no one paid anyone a farthing, and only Harambe, God bless him, paid the biggest price that anyone can pay.

Will he be buried or simply tossed into an incinerator?

A travesty and a tragedy.

People, pay attention to those you love and those you protect from harm.

All zoos should be closed and padlocked nevertheless.  We now have the ability to see every animal including an amoeba, in absolute detail and in living color.

There is no need for zoos where animals are tortured everyday living in cages, in glass boxes and worse just to amuse us and our children. There are people who provide sanctuary for orphaned or maimed animals.  That is enough and usually well thought out.

Instead let’s provide even more such places where the animals – even if not able to go back to their natural habitat from human spoiling – at least be allowed to be free with their own kind in as close to the same sheltering importance as they might have enjoyed had they not been injured or orphaned by poachers.

Yes, a better quality of life is possible for them – and that’s where we should pay our dues – not at zoos who often profit from the misery of animals.

Human beings are, just by a whisker-innocent, and we also can think about very complex matters – even if uneducated. We should understand that Zoos are inexcusable just as torture of our kind is.

It is the animals who are born and remain innocent for their entire lives.  They carry out nature’s plan. If only we all could claim this as well.

NOTE: (As I am remembering, only a few years ago when my adored giant schnauzer DeNiro attacked me when I did something imprudent which he couldn’t understand and put him in shock.

I had made a mistake then, and made it look like I was dying to DeNiro who was asleep on the kitchen floor as I had fallen on that floor in a dramatic faint to make another person with us laugh.

And as I looked into his face his eyes on mine, I realized that if he didn’t stop ripping at my arms and scalp I would die.  I was frightened to die, but I did not blame my dog.

To DeNiro, an innocent animal, I was gone or dying and he was trying to wake me or devour me out of adoration, not hate. He was overcome and became more wolf than dog.

That dog – who weighed 150 pounds had slept next to me for years. We spent almost every waking moment together.

He had walked through town with me, swam in Lake Lugano with me, and followed me through the crowds in Milano to have his “beauty treatment” at a chic animal stylist’s.  He went grocery shopping, just leashed to a pole at the entrance – and everyone liked him.

He had licked my face with a kiss every morning and night. He had trusted me and I him.

He had shared gelato ice cream cones with me in Ponte Tresa and Porta Ceresio, and we had gone on trips to France and Germany by car – he next to me usually snoozing but always ready to yap at a car passing or coming too close to us. 

And then, on the floor of my kitchen that day in Southern Italy, overlooking the stunning lake Lugano, I became ready to die rather than have someone hurt him for my folly. 

I thought about police coming, the ambulance – everything that could hurt him.

As this progressed it came to be, that just fastening his leash on his collar stopped this terror, and he walked away as if nothing happened – only he was terribly worried as I could see by his drooping head. 

His leash, of all things, set him free.

I ended up close to bleeding to death, and with my houseman I rode in an ambulance from my home nearly twenty miles to a hospital that evening – where I had 140 or so stiches in my arms and head.

Yet, all I could think of was my dog DeNiro who had sired my two female schnauzers Michelle and Mischka who brought me even more love and laughter, as well as his little “son” who I named Barack from my great joy and pride at our new American President, Barack Obama.

That night I slept with DeNiro as if mothing had happened. It was late and we were bedraggled but together.

In the end DeNiro breathed his last breath alone in a singular dog run at a hospice. I had moved back to America and he could not travel as he had to go for cancer treatment of his gums which no matter what we paid or prayed did not cure him nor bring him home to Washington with the girls and Barack. 

DeNiro always had everything I could give him – yet I have never gotten over his death. I should have been with him, as he had always stayed near me. He was alone without me – just as I have never lost the horror of my father’s death alone in a freezing car on Christmas Day –  hit by a drunk being chased by a cop. 

I was too young then to know my Dad loved me as much or more than DeNiro. Yet I felt and perceived DeNiro’s affection every minute of every day, when he in my lap, licking his vanilla gelato cone, or running after a squirrel he never caught in the hills above our home.

There is not an animal lover that would disagree with what I have told you here about Harambe or DeNiro.  They both died alone not among friends and family.  Most of us who yet have a heart and soul do mourn animals as much as we mourn men.

It’s evenhanded and a natural thing.

I know that some reading this essay will snicker at me – my feebleness – my equating every living thing, and especially the most innocent with humans.

Gee, I even talk to plants when they seem “down”.

I do not deny you that laugh.  Just please attempt to recognize how so many of us really do feel about most living things. They are as precious as we, and we should treat them that way – especially domesticated pets.

Many people on social media et al – are deploring Harambe the Silver Back’s murder right in his small, but only, home.  Me as well.

It is, after all, a crying matter, and something that, so easily, could have been avoided.


So easily….



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