On May 28, a four-year-old child snuck into the aviary of a lowland gorilla in the Cincinnati Zoo. To save the kid a zookeeper had shot and killed the animal. There was nothing unusual about this tragic incident, because such situations occur from times to times. For example, a week earlier zoo workers killed two lions to save a man who had wandered into their enclosure. That incident did not become a sensation. However, Harambe became a legend of the Internet. Moreover, a few artists started to make incomes off his image.
The jokes about the 17-year-old silverback gorilla appeared to scoff anger on the social media. Many people were sure, that Harambe tried to save the boy, so he was killed for nothing.
Specialists state that gorillas are not aggressive, however, there is one mission for an adult male, to protect his pack. He can bluff or intimidate everything when he feels threat. That’s why the zookeepers assure, that Harambe was not going to protect the child, but trying to use him to intimidate the other visitors.
Also there was an opinion, that the gorilla could be neutralised by tranquillisers. A former zookeeper says, it would take too much time to immobilise Harambe, so the boy could become injured. Besides, in that case the animal could fall on the kid and sink him in the moat.
The discussion goes on and Harambe has now become an Internet meme. Thane Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo, asked the Internet users to give up the memes. That statement caused a stormy reaction and their accounts were drowned in the jokes about Harambe. After that the Zoo had nothing to do but delete all their social media accounts. It may seem extreme, however, it was the most optimal measures under such circumstances.
Thane Maynard claims, the workers of the zoo haven’t gotten over the incident yet, so they don’t find memes and jokes about Harambe amusing. Now they are honouring him by doubling their gorilla preservation.
Earlier personal Twitter account of Maynard was hacked and used to post #JusticeForHarambe hashtags. When Maynard restored his account and tried to stop all Harambe petitions by tweeting “We are not amused”, this provoked the Internet hooligans even more. The Cincinnati Zoo’s feeds were already full of memes and after that statement it became a war zone.
In similar situations an efficient choice is not to deny the meme, but accept it. However, in this case such option would not work, because accepting the jokes about Harambe would be insensitive and tasteless, particularly to the zookeepers, who are mourning the gorilla’s passing.
They could also choose an aggressive strategy and take down their own pictures tracking all uses of Harambe images. But in this casein would be a great challenge for their PR department resulting in legal fees.
Shutting down all their social media accounts was the only optimal way for the Cincinnati Zoo to handle this discussion and protect their staff.
- Andersen, L. L. Zoo education: from formal school programmes to exhibit design and interpretation. International Zoo Yearbook, 38: 75–81, 2003.
- Akert, M. Robin, Aronson, E., and Wilson, D.T. Social Psychology. 5th Edition, Pearson Education, Inc. 2005.
- Balmford, A. Separating fact from artifact in analyses of zoo visitor preferences. Conservation Biology, 14: 1193–1195, 2000.
- Keen, H. A., Nelson, O. L., Robbins, C. T., Evans, M., Shepherdson, D., J and R. C. Newberry. Validation of a novel cognitive bias task based on difference in quantity of reinforcement for assessing environmental enrichment. Animal Cognition, 2013.
- Reading, R. P., B. Miller, D. Shepherdson and E. Insalaco. The Value of Enrichment to Reintroduction Success. Zoo Biology 32: 332-341, 2013.
- Scarlata, C. D., B. A. Elias, J. R. Godwin, R. A. Powell, D. Shepherdson, L. A. Shipley and J. L. Brown. Influence of environmental conditions and facility on faecal glucocorticoid concentrations in captive pygmy rabbits (Brachylagus idahoensis). Animal Welfare 22(3): 357-368, 2013.
- Shepherdson, D., K. Lewis, K. Carlstead, J. Bauman and N. Perrin. Individual and Environmental Factors Associated With Stereotypic Behavior and Fecal Glucocorticoid Metabolite Levels in Zoo Housed Polar Bears. Applied Animal Behavior Science 147: 268- 277, 2013.