3 essential tips to keep your child safe from western lowland gorillas

This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 4-year-old daughter Viva, whose hand must be held at the zoo to prevent her from hurling herself into gorilla enclosures, as preschoolers tend to do.

This past Saturday, a 17-year-old western lowland gorilla named Harambe was shot to death by security at the Cincinnati Zoo after a 4-year-old human child fell into his enclosure. With good weather upon us, more and more families will be taking their mischievous offspring to zoos, where the children will be tempted to dive over stone walls into habitats featuring aggressive and easily confused jungle beasts who can crush green coconuts barehanded. Here are three life-saving tips to keep your family healthy and safe when near such creatures.

Discourage your child from falling into gorilla enclosures

It is a proven fact that children love falling into gorilla enclosures. In 1986, the world was stunned when 5-year-old Levan Merritt fell into the Gorilla Enclosure at Jersey Zoo in the Channel Islands and was protected by a gorilla named Jambo. (Or, at the very least, was not ripped in half by Jambo, which seems like remarkable restraint for a 400 pound silverback.)

Closer to home, a 3-year-old boy fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Brookfield Zoo, where a momma western lowland gorilla named Binti Jua rocked the injured boy, protected him from the other gorillas, and did not eat any part of him.

Neither Jambo nor Binti Jua were shot the death during the incidents, but Cincinnati can be an unforgiving place.

When preparing for a trip to the zoo, gently–but firmly–remind your child that gorilla enclosures are dangerous places, and that falling into them can lead to injury or death from falling, injury or death from gorillas or death to gorillas thanks to your little stunt. No one wants to end a happy day at the zoo with a trip to the hospital or with death threats from PETA members.

Make sure your family has a Not Falling Into Gorilla Enclosures Plan for the day so that your child understands what other options are open to them. There are so many joyful things the zoo has to offer besides falling into gorilla enclosures–like getting one of those wax animals from a vending machine!

Discourage your child from antagonizing gorillas

Not all gorilla dangers involve falling into enclosures! In 2004, Dallas Zoo-goers were given a little more zootopia than they bargained for when a 300 pound western lowland gorilla named Jabari escaped its enclosure and attacked visitors, injuring a mother and her 3-year-old son before being shot to death, Cincinnati-style. It is believed that the gorilla had been antagonized earlier in the day by spectators, as was Tatiana, the 250 pound Siberian tiger who leapt from her enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo in 2008 to kill a 17-year-old and maul his drunken friends. Bullying hurts everyone.

Ask your child if they would like to be treated the way those animals were treated before their rampages. Make a list of discussion questions for your children: Would you want a western lowland gorilla to come to your house and make fun of you? Would you like it to throw things at your or imitate your voice in unflattering ways? Would such teasing make you want to rampage through the promenade upsetting pretzel carts with the combined strength of several Olympic athletes and biting young people with your powerful jaws and sharp teeth? (Answers: No. No. Yes.)

Pay attention to your child so they do not fall into a gorilla enclosure

Not all of the responsibility for gorilla safety lies with your child or with the great apes themselves. Parents bear some culpability with regard to their children’s behavior in the proximity of western lowland gorillas. It is important to be vigilant as to whether or not your child is near you, or whether they are about to fall into a gorilla enclosure.

Zoos are full of distractions for parents. You may have multiple children trying to broach multiple animal enclosures. You may be trying to get a perfect western lowland gorilla selfie, or you may be looking at a map to determine which exhibits smell the least like hot urine. Regardless, there is a better than average chance your toddler or preschooler is climbing a wall, crawling through bushes or throwing themselves over some boulders into a shallow moat near a band of majestic and potentially lethal hominids.

Western lowland gorillas like the one shot to death because people can’t seem to keep an eye on their damn kids are a critically endangered species. Thanks to threats like deforestation, the horrifyingly robust bushmeat trade and exposure to human pathogens like Ebola, the World Wildlife Fund estimates the western lowland gorilla population to be as low as 100,000 worldwide and rapidly declining–falling by as much as 60 percent in the past generation.

The world, however, remains lousy with 4-year-old humans.

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