By Hannah Reich Berman

Not long ago, a hunter killed a supposedly famous lion in Zimbabwe by the name of Cecil. The killing was done strictly for sport, and people the world over were outraged by the action. It was said that Cecil was a beloved animal, but I had my doubts about his popularity. Maybe he was well-loved by all, but then again, maybe not.

Animal-rights activists had a lot to say about the killing and about his killer, Walter Palmer. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon. Even the folks who had never heard of the majestic, dark-maned lion named Cecil before he was killed became critics. Suddenly everyone claimed to have loved the beautiful big cat.

And who could prove whether that really was the case? Chances are that half of those people just wanted to be heard. The name of the game today, in every situation, is protest. This is also known as the blame game. Humans like to complain and to shout to express an opinion. The shooter, a Minnesota dentist, received death threats and had to close his dental practice until things calmed down. And he was not the only one in hot water. The guides who had led him on the hunt of Cecil were none too popular, either.

For a few weeks, the story made front-page headlines, but eventually the furor subsided, as it always does. Stories get stale very fast, so the press found some newer compelling story to write about. That was good news for Palmer, who was then able to reopen his office.

Fast-forward several months and do the following: substitute a gorilla for a lion, exchange a sharpshooting zookeeper for a hunter, and think about the name Harambe instead of Cecil. What happened a couple of weeks ago–right here on American soil–was the result of a far different scenario. In Judaism we are taught that the mistreatment of an animal is strictly forbidden. Animals are to be afforded great sensitivity. In the Bible, those who care for animals are heroes and those who hunt them are villains.

Nevertheless, a 400-pound silverback gorilla named Harambe residing in the Cincinnati zoo had to be put down. The killing this time was not for sport, but to save the life of a four-year-old boy who had managed to find his way into Harambe’s habitat. It was a shame that the gorilla had to be killed, but there was no choice in the matter. That is, there was no choice unless one was inclined to gamble with the life of the child.

Silverbacks are males and not necessarily gentle, but some eyewitnesses have claimed that Harambe was actually protecting the boy and did not intend to harm him. His body language, according to some experts, indicated that he posed no intended threat to the child. The keyword here is intended, because, as the gorilla was dragging the defenseless child through the water, he was being tossed around like a rag doll, which could have inadvertently resulted in his death.

The outrage that this killing sparked took many different routes. Everyone wanted to get in on the blame game. Some people were angry with zookeepers for killing the animal when perhaps they could have tranquilized him. Others were screaming that zoos should be abolished altogether. Many carped about the action (or inaction) of the boy’s parents and demanded that they be brought up on charges of negligence.

Why was the gorilla not tranquilized instead of killed? This question, along with many others, and with alternative suggestions, went viral. While it was not shocking to learn that some were horrified by the killing of Harambe, it was astonishing to find out that they felt this way even after it was explained that the little boy in his grasp was in mortal danger. Sad though the killing was, if the boy was to be saved, there was no other option. Understandably, the bystanders were screaming in horror as the scene unfolded, and that screaming likely caused confusion for Harambe. Tranquilizing the already jittery silverback was a questionable option, since it could have taken ten minutes or more before the gorilla would be knocked out, and the painful dart of the tranquilizer might have caused him to attack the child. And we all know what that could have meant.

It might be wise for these outraged citizens–probably the same ones who screamed about Cecil not long ago–to stop and think. Killing Cecil was a true outrage, but killing Harambe was not. The gorilla was not killed for sport; he was killed to save the life of a young child. This was not Magilla Gorilla, the lovable Hanna-Barbera character created in the 1960s, we are talking about. That was a harmless fictional animal who was dressed in human attire: shoes, a bowtie, shorts held up by suspenders, and an adorable undersized hat. That gorilla languished about all day in the front window of a pet shop and did nothing but eat bananas. The worst thing he ever did was to drain the finances of the store’s owner–a far cry from what Harambe might potentially have done to the child in his grasp.

That’s just the way it was! v

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at or 516-295-4435.


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