I’m not a mother – yet. But I’ve played a motherly role to many and feel as if my brother is a product of my own womb.

Last week, when I watched the video from the Cincinnati Zoo of the 400-pound gorilla hauling and pulling that four-year-old boy up and down the cage, my heart bled for the mother.

In anguish, I could only imagine her state. In the audio from the various released videos, I heard her trying hard to suppress her own panic and distress and calm her scared and crying toddler. A mother’s nightmare.

Many on social media saw it very differently than I did. Their sentiments towards the mother of the child who had fallen 10 feet into the gorilla cage were:

? “Charge her with negligence.”

? “Have her pay the funeral bill for the gorilla.”

? “Off with her head.”

I really found all these views very insensitive. Talk about adding insult to injury. This wasn’t Michael Jackson dangling ‘Blanket’ from a hotel balcony. This wasn’t a mother gone to a dance leaving her toddler at home with a lit candle. This was a curious child bolting away in excitement from a mother caught off-guard. It happens.

Haven’t you ever gone to the beach, heard a mother tell her child, “Stay on the sand,” only to see said child dart towards the water and the mother darting after her. Or have you gone to the supermarket and seen a mother, for a second, reach in her bag for her purse and in that flash her child takes off down Aisle Two. To say that those instances of impulse from children make the mothers irresponsible is unfair.


Not surprised  

Have you ever babysat a four-year-old? Have you ever taken a four-year-old to the zoo? Even good parents with the most protective of intentions have a hard time restraining an excited preschooler. Especially at the zoo. They get excited. They want to bang on every glass and try to get as close to the animals as their enclosures allow.

©Luis Oberto

I’m not surprised that the child thought it a good idea to turn the gorilla cage into monkey bars.

You assume a zoo to be a space where children can run and explore relatively safely. You assume zoos get rambunctious four-year-old visitors all the time and that they ensure that bars are close enough that tiny humans can’t fall through.

I’m not blaming the zoo, but I’m certainly not blaming the mother either.

People have a way of casting judgement without being there or getting the full story. We also hold some people to unrealistic levels of perfection. I was an accident, and I can’t see wilful carelessness in the story as it was told.

In empathy, animal lovers have humanised the gorilla. How ironic is that! They say the silverback was protecting the child and holding its hand. Yeah, I saw that. But I also saw it drag the child for nearly 10 minutes, sometimes underwater, almost dislocating the poor little thing’s shoulder. I was never sure it wouldn’t sit on the child to hide it away.

The decision taken by zoo officials to shoot the 17-year-old gorilla I thought was the right one under the circumstances. When forced to choose between man and beast, I choose man – every time. Unfortunately, the gorilla mind reader was out sick that day, so the zoo couldn’t find out the gorilla’s intentions; and the gorilla translator wasn’t around to tell the primate to be more gentle. So the zoo did what it had to.

If the expectation is that at every potentially fun place, kids should walk around held prisoner by the vice grip of their parents, that’s just sad. I’m sorry that the perhaps well-intentioned gorilla met his demise like this. But I’m happier that the child made it out alive and that the zoo now knows it needs better fencing. Some accidents are just accidents, and they happen to the best of us.

 – Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to [email protected] and [email protected] , or tweet @findpatria.

©Luis Oberto

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