On Saturday, Cincinnati Zoo officials shot and killed an endangered silverback gorilla in order to save a toddler who fell into the gorilla’s enclosure. The 3-year-old boy had allegedly been talking about getting in the water inside the enclosure. After he fell 10-12 feet into the shallow pool, the 450-pound male gorilla, named Harambe, approached and stood over the child. For more than 10 minutes, the gorilla alternately dragged the boy violently around the pool, then stood protectively over him, even taking the boy’s hand and standing him up at one point. Zoo officials decided against using a tranquilizer because its effect would have taken too long.
Animal rights activists are criticizing the zoo for not having a second barrier around the enclosure, and argued that wild animals should not be placed in zoos to begin with. Others are criticizing the boy’s parents for failing to keep an eye on the boy. Still others are debating whether killing the gorilla was actually necessary. Once safe, the boy was rushed to a hospital and is expected to recover.
Humanity’s relationship with the animal kingdom can be challenging to navigate. Zoos bring the two worlds into especially close proximity where unpredictable events like this are more likely to occur. Cincinnati Zoo’s officials had to make the difficult decision to kill the endangered gorilla, and this week they are mourning the loss of Harambe, even though they believe they ultimately made the right decision.
In the Bible, stories about people like Noah, Samson, and David remind us that God’s creatures can get uncomfortably close sometimes. Theologians talk about the responsibility God gave us to care for our environment and the animals in it. Genesis 1:28 says, “Be responsible for the fish in the sea the birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.” Whether these animals wander into our yard, scamper onto the road, or live next door, Harambe’s death reminds us that we need to continue to pray and work for ways to care for the animals that God has entrusted to us.
For all that we’ve learned about the animal kingdom, God reminds us that we don’t fully understand the mystery of all that he has made. He created every creature and knows the inner workings of each one. Beginning with Job 38:36, God describes a wide array of creatures that he watches over carefully. This passage from Job 40 describes the grandeur that God has given his creatures, reminding us of the great honor we have in caring for all that God has created.
“Look at the land beast, Behemoth. I created him as well as you.
Grazing on grass, docile as a cow—
Just look at the strength of his back,
the powerful muscles of his belly.
His tail sways like a cedar in the wind;
his huge legs are like beech trees.
His skeleton is made of steel,
every bone in his body hard as steel.
Most magnificent of all my creatures,
but I still lead him around like a lamb!
The grass-covered hills serve him meals,
while field mice frolic in his shadow.
He takes afternoon naps under shade trees,
cools himself in the reedy swamps,
Lazily cool in the leafy shadows
as the breeze moves through the willows.
And when the river rages he doesn’t budge,
stolid and unperturbed even when the Jordan goes wild.
But you’d never want him for a pet—
you’d never be able to housebreak him!”