The passing of Harambe the Gorilla, and the public outcry that “There are plenty of four year old boys in the world but less than twenty three Harambe-type gorillas in the world, we could afford to lose one four year old boy,” really got me to pondering about the vagaries and priorities of internet moral outrage. More than that, though, it got me to pondering what it is that separates people from gorillas, and more broadly humans from animals.
I’m fairly certain that the Harambes (I think “Harambe” is a gorilla family surname, and if not, I’m so sorry, Harambe, because whoever named you was a jerk) in that Cincinnati Zoo enclosure would not hesitate for a moment to kill a human if it meant saving one of their own. That stands to reason. Preservation of self, preservation of community, preservation of species. And yet, we have humans who empathize so strongly with an animal (in this case, Harambe the Gorilla) that one of their own (in this case, a four year old boy with a lousy mother, some are saying) is easily and readily sacrificed to save one of a species not their own. Gorillakind before mankind. I don’t believe gorillas as a species share the same instinct or even a similar sentiment.
The ability of internet humans to connect with an animal they never met (and never even heard of until the internet told them to be pissed off about its death) cannot be that dividing line that separates man from beast. There must be more. Is it spoken language? Some will make the correct argument dolphins and ravens have a complex spoken language. Is it the ability to fashion and use tools? Again, our feathered friend the raven is quite adept at tools. And sea otters are soooooooo cute with their little itty bitty cutesy paws and adorable little sweet face as they massacre crustaceans with a perfectly selected stone, feasting upon the goo they find inside. Protecting our offspring? Other than the internet humans who don’t have children of their own and never ever studied primatology, humans and animals alike have the instinct to protect their young. What is it, then, that can be directly delineated as “This is behavior unique to homo sapien and no other animal possesses this behavior”?
I was strolling around the Rio Grande Zoo here in Albuquerque, walking through the reptile exhibit, past our own gorillas, and then our polar bear exhibit. Then it finally hit me. Of course! How appropriate that it was in a zoo much like the Cincinnati Zoo where this revelation came to me. An epiphany, something to hang our specie’s collective behavioral hat upon, a behavior to claim all for our own.
What separates humans from all other animals?
Homo sapiens are the only specie on the planet to bang on the glass at the zoo when we think the animal is sleeping.