The 450 Pound Gorilla in the Room and in the Zoo

The awe-inspiring yet terrifying video of a Silverback Gorilla clutching and body surfing a three year old boy in a zoo enclosure has gone viral. Moreover, the deadly decision by the Cincinnati Zoo keepers to shoot the Gorilla to save the life of the child has sparked an explosion of criticism and controversy.

Why wasn’t Harambe spared? Couldn’t they have sedated the magnificent animal? Couldn’t they have waited and sought to settle the aroused but innocent Gorilla by clearing the screaming crowds? Animal rights activists are likely gearing up for action. They have succeeded in freeing the killer whales at Sea World. The gorillas in the world’s zoos may well be next. After all, no gorilla chooses to be enslaved in a zoo keeper’s pen to be gawked at by crowds and troubled by pesky and clumsy preschoolers.

But with our concern about the 450 pound Gorilla in the zoo, are we willing to consider the 450 pound Gorilla in the room? Isn’t the real issue the value of the life of the child in light of animal rights? Of course, somebody is responsible for the crisis caused by the child’s plummet into the gorilla’s domain. Maybe it’s the parents’ lack of attentiveness. Maybe it’s the Zoo’s inadequate security.

But responsibility hasn’t been the heart of the protests. The real issue rearing its ugly head is the superiority of animal rights over human dignity. Isn’t the shrill second-guessing actually masking the ever-increasing belief that humans are the problem and fewer of them will be better for the planet?

Without diminishing the tragic nature of the decision that the Zoo-keepers chose to make, they made the only right moral choice. Human life has an unparalleled and eternal dignity as each human life is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:28). The belief in the value of a human inspires a fireman to charge a burning building to rescue a child, the very child who set the house on fire by playing with matches.

The commitment to the dignity of life moves an expectant mother to risk her life by not treating a life-threatening disease so that her unborn child might be spared. This principle has permitted medical advances as the lives of impish chimpanzees and loyal dogs have been sacrificed to discover cures for human diseases. And it is this ideal that brought the Nuremburg Trials to indict Nazi War Criminals because they had treated human beings as mere animals—indeed as “life unworthy of life” and thus far less than human.

This issue of moral zoology must then address responsibility for two failures, not just one. The first is the initial failure to protect the child. This first failure resulted in the second failure, the inability to protect the Gorilla. But we must not lose the order of priority. We dare not compromise our duty to protect a child’s life, even if it means that a majestic creature of the wild is at risk.

To lose this principle puts human life into greater bondage than a captured animal in the care of zoo-keepers. The moral bondage of a master who assumes the prerogative to decide who is more or less valuable than an animal is nothing less than the tyranny of unchecked animal rights dysphoria. If we get this wrong, men will no longer be human except by the decision of another. By properly addressing the 450 pound Gorilla in the room, we can properly assess the 450 pound Gorilla in the Zoo.

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