Harambe: More Than a Meme

In case you have been living under a rock since last May, social media has blown up over an event that has gathered nation-wide attention. On May 28th, 2016, just a day after his seventeenth birthday, the critically endangered Western lowland gorilla, Harambe, was shot after an a four-year old child slipped away from his mother and wandered into the gorilla pit of the Cincinnati Zoo. What happened next remains a controversy. Wildlife officials say Harambe looked as if he was going to attack or kill the young boy, whilst zoo-goers argue that he was simply protecting the child and showing no indication of causing harm. What precedes however is not in question but a saddening fact. Instead of shooting Harambe with a tranquilizer gun, which could have saved the boy and not harmed the gorilla; zoo official choose to shoot Harambe with a real gun, killing him instantly. Zoo officials’ state that a tranquilizer gun may not have worked instantly, yet studies conclude that tranquilizer do immediately make animals “loopy.” The effects of this event have been huge, as throughout Hawken and the rest of the country, increasing numbers of people have become upset over the treatment over animals in captivity. The case of Harambe’s popularity indicates not only growing support for animal rights among youth, but the prevalence of the internet in bringing awareness to social issues.

        The response to Harambe’s death has been overwhelming and only increasing, as the world has condemned both Cincinnati Zoo and the “unfit” mother via the internet. Following this outrage, Harambe captured the attention of major news stations with protests and vigils at zoos all over the country. His death has affected people at Hawken as well. Every Hawken teacher and student that interviewed in this article had heard of Harambe and knew most of the details circulating around about his death. All students and faculty agreed that Harambe’s death was abominable and avoidable. Noah Neides described the event as, “An inside job [against animal rights] that could have easily been solved with other solutions.” Another tenth grade student described her feelings to the killing to be, “sad, because Harambe was just a seventeen year-old kid, like all of us.” Student reactions demonstrate just how relevant this issue has become to teens, as the level of passion that so many students have for the issue indicate just how strongly they feel about animal rights in the modern era.

Harambe’s ubiquitous status has largely been a result of the ability of the internet to spread information through a wide audience in a very short time. Interviews uncovered that the most common way people had learned about Harambe was through memes. That’s right- a dead endangered gorilla became the “Meme of the Year”. Harambe memes range from the infamous man dressed as an ape dragging a child around during a Cincinnati football game to the common phrase “RIP Harambe.”  Harambe memes have centralized on the race issues and tensions being faced in America and other serious issues such as abortion. They have also touched upon more light hearted topics such as child leashes and Spongebob. Harambe has become so popular that Mentor High School has chosen their word of the year to be “Harambed” (a word meaning to have lost a loved one).

If you’re sitting reading this article and thinking, “Why do I care about a gorilla meme?” here is why. Harambe’s death has brought international attention to animals’ rights associations. Harambe is just one of three animals to be shot and killed by zoos in one week in May. Two lions were shot dead in the Santiago Metropolitan Zoo, in Chile, after a suicidal man entered their enclosure. In 2012, a mother dropped her two year old son into a critically endangered wild African dog enclosure, leading to one of these endangered dogs being killed. Nine years ago, an endangered Siberian tiger was shot dead after weak fencing allowed her to escape her enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo. Not only have these animals been killed but National Geographic reports that since 1990 over forty zoo animals have been fatally shot.

Because endangered animals are continually being shot at zoos many animals’ rights activists groups have been taking a stand against the treatment of animals in zoos, aquariums, and circuses. In the past year SeaWorld has agreed to stop its Orca breeding program, meaning that this generation is the last of Orcas SeaWorld will mistreat by being put in too small an aquarium. Many animal activists argue against the idea of zoos, bringing up the arguments that humans don’t have the right to forcibly breed animals, confined animals exhibit high levels of stress, removing animals from the wild endangers them more, that surplus animals are usually murdered, and animals living in enclosures have shorter lives on average than wild animals.

Even though almost everyone has heard of Harambe, most of you probably haven’t heard about the death and mistreatment of the other animals mentioned. Although one Hawken eleventh grade student thought the whole Harambe meme situation to be, “blown out of proportion and irrelevant,” the coverage on Harambe’s death has finally shed light on animal rights activism. If you are concerned with the way people are treating zoo, aquarium, and circus animals please visit: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/animal-welfare/animal-abuse/. This website offers links to hundreds of petitions for the better treatment of animals.