Which one would you save?

Published 7:01 pm Saturday, June 4, 2016

By now, you’ve heard all about the death of the gorilla, Harambe, in the Cincinnati Zoo.

A 3-year-old boy climbed into the gorilla’s enclosure, falling into a moat, and the 400-pound male primate came to him, hovered over him and then dragged him around the moat by the ankle. In this electronic age, smartphone video clips show nearly the whole ordeal. The part they don’t show is Harambe’s death, which came when zoo officials showed up, assessed that the boy was in danger of being killed, decided that using a tranquilizer dart would not ensure the boy’s safety and then shot and killed Harambe.

In the days since the gorilla was shot, America has been rent by the debate over the Dangerous Animal Response Team’s decision to kill Harambe. Vigils have been held for the dead 17-year-old Western Lowland gorilla. Petitions have been signed calling for the family to pay a price — financially, socially and legally — for losing track of their child. And the social media backlash against the family and the zoo has been full of the vitriol and hatred that have come to be the hallmark of much of social media today.


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Yes, the family should have kept the child from climbing into the enclosure. Similarly, children should not get lost in supermarkets, parents should not forget children are in the backseat of vehicles when they go to work and 14-year-old girls should never be pregnant. But all of those things happen, and any parent lives with the heartbreaking knowledge that it’s impossible to watch a child and keep him out of trouble every second of every day. And, as in the case of this child at the zoo, a second or two of distraction can be devastating.

What’s more worrisome is the growing chorus of those who say they believe Harambe deserved to live at the potential expense of the child’s life. After all, they say, gorillas are an endangered species, and the child should never have been in his habitat in the first place.

The simple fact that many in America say they believe a gorilla’s life is more valuable than that of a child proves just how little many people in this nation value the lives of other humans.

Is there anything that makes human life special or sacred? Is there anything that makes YOUR life special?

To argue that Harambe’s life was more important than that of this child, you must also argue that his life would be more important than your own life. Whether you would have found yourself in that situation is irrelevant; in the moment of being there, any sane and honest person would want zoo officials to do whatever it took to save him, even if it meant killing a beautiful gorilla.

What parent could imagine suggesting, as some have, that the child should have been shot, rather than the gorilla? What parent could imagine suggesting doing anything besides whatever was deemed necessary to save her child?

So what makes us different from the gorilla?

If you believe the answer is “nothing,” then logic compels you to become a vegetarian; to eschew the use of leather in your clothes, in your furniture and in your car; to consider every single day-to-day choice in light of the question of whether some animal would be hurt by it. The calculus involved in determining the relative importance of a rat or a child would become a complicated matter of measuring the preponderance of one versus the other.

But if you’re not willing to give up pork rinds and leather purses, if you’re not willing to eradicate the rats in your home, then you have to recognize that there’s something that sets humans apart from the animal kingdom. There’s something that makes human life sacred.

For Christians, like me, that something is the fact that we were made by God in His image. He made the animals, too, but He put His own breath into us. We were given eternal souls. We were “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

That doesn’t mean that we have carte blanche to wipe out the rest of creation. But it does mean that when the choice comes down to watching a child die versus killing an animal — even an endangered one — there should be no hesitation: Save the child and shoot the gorilla.