Making mistakes: We’ve all been there

Published 10:44 am Monday, June 6, 2016

Some of you may recall that when Cecil the Lion was killed eleven months ago, I wrote on this page that dentist-hunter Walter Palmer shouldn’t be prosecuted for actions that led to the lord of the jungle’s death.

Now I’m feeling the same way about Harambe, the Silverback gorilla shot and killed last weekend at the Cincinnati (Ohio) zoo, because he seemed to be threatening a small child. That’s because too many folks are saying online (surprise!?!) that the mother who let a three-year old wander too close to, and eventually fall into, a primate cage should be held accountable for the demise of that magnificent animal.

Well, lady, I’m here to tell you, like Dr. Palmer: this is not your fault.

If things had gone differently and the headline on Sunday read “Four-year-old boy trampled, smothered, or mauled to death by a 450-pound gorilla,” maybe people would have responded with more sympathy and less blind blame.

In less time that it’ll take most of you to read this article, a child climbed into a gorilla enclosure, there was an encounter with the huge beast, and an innocent animal was shot to death, but the child survived.

And what about the poor woman on the receiving end of all that vitriol? Animal rights activists are furious, parents are scowling behind Facebook accounts, people who have never had the responsibility of keeping even a houseplant alive, let alone a human being, are demanding justice for the dead gorilla by declaring that this woman is an unfit parent.

Bad parents don’t take kids to zoos, concerts, and museums. I know the frustration of telling a child for the umpteenth time, with patience growing thin, honey don’t climb up there, baby don’t go in there, sweetie you’re not allowed to do that in here.

From the fiery reaction, a lot of people act like the lady pushed the child into the enclosure AND she pulled the trigger.

A lot of the criticism comes from people who haven’t had the first hand experience of parenthood, but the good news is that they can pull from their first hand experience of being a child.

We have all outsmarted our parents: eaten the candy we weren’t allowed to, pinched or punched our siblings when no one was looking, and we all at one time entered some sanctioned area with barriers that were put up for our own protection.

Yes, and just like you: I got away with it, too.

There are a zillion ways we can aim all this anger that would result in a positive change to how we experience animals in captivity.

But I refuse to stand on the other side of that glass and judge, shame, or blame the mother. This is not her fault.

It’s okay to be angry about the gorilla dying, I get that. It’s okay to be furious that a mother let her child out of her sight long enough for him to stray and fall into the enclosure. It’s okay to be really mad at the zoo, which made the decision to shoot the gorilla. It’s even okay to have all these feelings at the same time, and still not say hateful things about people. A great zoo lost a beloved animal and friend; and now a mother who nearly lost a son is facing harassment from millions of people.

If you’re angry, use that to make change. Maybe we need new safety precautions at zoos. Maybe, like we don’t have killer whales at Sea World or elephants doing hard labor at Barnum & Bailey Circuses, gorillas shouldn’t be in zoos anymore. Maybe kids under eight years old should be tethered in these places like my little dog, on a leash. Whatever you believe, outside of thinking the mom shouldn’t have made a mistake, let these changes fuel your energy.

We’ve all been there, and those who haven’t yet are going to get there one day. Practice empathy, not a superiority complex; and most importantly, practice love and not hate.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer with Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 242-332-7211.