Beyond Harambe


By Kaleigh Steigman

It has been over three months since Harambe, a male gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, was shot and killed to protect the life of a 3-year-old boy that fell into the gorilla’s enclosure, and people are still talking about it.


Within twenty-four hours of his death, a Harambe meme was rapidly circulating around the web. The most popular strand of the meme depicted the gorilla that made headlines along with the words “Not sure why they killed me, I was doing a better job of watching that lady’s kid than she was.” It didn’t take long for the whole world to know who Harambe was.


The Internet resurrected Harambe in every way it knew how; through the aforementioned meme, a Wikipedia page, and countless comments on the Cincinnati Zoo’s social media pages -comments that led to the removal of their twitter account- and everything inbetween. The mere fact that typing ‘Harambe’ into a Word document will not result in a squiggly red underline is enough to signify the mark of pop culture.


But the incident of Harambe’s death, while tragic, is a single fish in a ocean of animal rights infringement issues. Even political figures including Jill Stein, leader of the Green Party, have commented on the incident.


“The killing of Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo highlights the need to adopt stronger legal protections for the rights of animals,” said Stein.


The Green Party, among other groups, has a history of fighting for animal rights in America, but animal rights problems are prevalent around the world.


Earlier this summer, animal rights activists lost a major battle with the death of Arturo, ‘the World’s Saddest Polar Bear’ from a zoo in Argentina.


The bear had been living in a cinder block enclosure with a one- foot-deep swimming pool since 1993. The city where he lived was deemed ‘completely unsuitable” for an arctic animal by activists, as temperatures could reach as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit.


When the bear that Arturo shared his enclosure with died of cancer in 2012, he was the last polar bear in Argentina, making him a major attraction.


Shortly after the death of the other bear, a petition was created to have Arturo moved to a Canadian zoo. It accumulated over a million signatures until his death, yet the zoo still refused to move him.


The Argentinian zoo claimed that Arturo was “too old” to be moved and that he was “close to his keepers,” so movement would be detrimental to both his physical and emotional health.


Arturo’s is not the only story of a country’s prized animal being abused because of lack of motivation.


An Elephant named Hanako was gifted to Japan from Thailand in 1947 and lived in a cinder block enclosure, often called a ‘prison’ by the public.


A petition to move Hanako to a more suitable environment with complete necessities for elephant mental health including other elephants, room to move, and mental stimulation,  was signed by over 300,000 people, but still ignored by the zoo.


Earlier this year, Hanako died in the zoo after years of public exposure and lack of stimulation.


American Zoos of course have problems with animal rights as well; look no further than Sea World. But our nation does have a legal framework in place to help with some animal issues.


Locally, the Natural Bridge Zoo has faced considerable speculation in recent years for allowing the public to bottle feed baby tigers and ride elephants.


The USDA found the zoo in violation of 31 federal regulations, including insufficient documentation of vet care, and overall medical care of the animals.


In March of 2015, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries suspended the Natural Bridge zoo licence, only to reinstate it in May  only after “conditions had been corrected.”


Zoos have taken a lot of well deserved credit in recent years for lowering the number of endangered species, and for providing awareness about animals in need.


A male baby orangutan born at the Smithsonian Zoo on September 13, was a great accomplishment for zoos across the nation, as the species is critically endangered.


The history of zoo culture is tainted with unnoticed abuse, alarming incidents of neglect, and, in Harambe’s case, a combination of horrible circumstance and rapid reaction. His death, while arguably unnecessary, will hopefully not be insignificant, and will call attention to the atrocities faced by other animals. Maybe one day, Harambe will become more than a flippant meme.  




Categories: News

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