In the wake of the Harambe tragedy, it only seems appropriate to point out that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Although the results may vary, the story of a human falling into a pit of wild animals has essentially become akin to Groundhog Day. While some are concerned with the so-called negligent parent who allowed this to occur, others among us are much more interested to know why this is even possible in the first place. Either way, you would think the many cases that occurred in the past would be enough to cause zoos to reconsider the security (or lack thereof) of their exhibits.
Not so much.
Overall, it seems that it may be time to reform our concept of zoos in general. Certainly not the most humane place for animals, it should also now be quite clear that they are arguably unsafe for humans as well. Despite human error, we should all be concerned with the level of ease that people are able to jump into these highly dangerous exhibits. If nothing else, humans should begin to wonder if it is that easy for us to get in, how long before they discover how easy it is to get out?
Let’s take a walk down memory lane. Harambe’s death is just the latest episode in a long series of faulty zoo exhibits and unfortunate souls.
10. Jersey Zoo, 1986
Although you may or may not be old enough to remember this incident, five-year-old Levan Merrit fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Jersey Zoo and even lost consciousness on the way down. Approached by a silverback male, Jambo, rather than tormenting the toddler, the gorilla actually stood guard over the unconscious child in order to keep away other gorillas. Once the boy regained consciousness and began to cry, Jambo and the others were scared off which allowed for a safe retrieval of the child.
9. Detroit Zoo, 1990
Next, in 1990, 33-year-old Rick Swope jumped into a chimpanzee exhibit to save what appeared to be a helpless, drowning chimp. After noticing him struggling in the water, the man bravely jumped into the exhibit to help bring the monkey to safety. Although it is certainly not advisable to try at home (especially, if you’re a mere mortal), Swope was actually successful in his attempt. Despite the clearly high-risk act of kindness, his bravery paid off. Not only did the chimps not attempt to harm him, but he even received public recognition as the zoo thanked him for his heroic actions.
8. Brookfield Zoo, 1996
Another feel-good gorilla tale, after a young child fell into the gorilla exhibit at the Brookfield Zoo in 1996, onlookers were all but certain the child was done for. However, as luck would have it, the fallen child was approached by a female gorilla, Binti Jua, who actually came to the boy’s aid. As observers braced themselves for the worse, the monkey surprised everyone with her motherly instincts. By cradling the injured child in her arms and carrying him to the door of the exhibit, this ironically humane primate managed to save the day as well as the child’s life.
7. SeaWorld Orlando, 1999
On the flip side, in 1999, there was a mysterious death at the SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. Literally found sleeping with the fishes, one naked male was discovered deceased in the orca whale exhibit. This caused a series of speculations from this being a case of bestiality, to the possibility that he was a victim of an actual mob hit (although, that would have obviously been carried out by a mob with an ironic sense of humor). Although no one is quite sure how or why the incident occurred, officials speculated that the man may have been an aficionado who simply let his love for orcas get carried away with him
6. Beijing Zoo, 2009
It’s no secret, pandas are as cute as many humans are dumb. A superstar of the Beijing Zoo, one panda, Gugu, is routinely subject to panda-crazed trespassers who just had to get up close and personal with the beast. Nevertheless, doesn’t seem like Gugu was a big fan of the attention, the panda has already bitten at least three intruders over the years. The last instance of which took place in 2009, when a man was bitten in the leg but Gugu was chased off by zoo keepers to prevent him from finishing the job.
5. Berlin Zoo, 2009
Another cracky case of epic proportions, in 2009, a woman decided to jump into the polar bear exhibit during feeding time. Although her mental health status remains unclear, it has been said that she was just a woman who had a love for polar bears. Either way, once she had made in into the exhibit, she swam out to greet the beasts who, in turn, greeted her with bites on her arms and legs. Lucky for her, the teacher and mother was able to be rescued by zookeepers who swooped in and dragged the woman back up the exhibition wall, but not before sustaining an array of serious injuries in the process.
4. Pittsburg Zoo, 2012
One of the most unfortunate zoo tragedies to date, in 2012, two-year-old Maddox Derkosh fell into a wild African dog exhibit at the hands of his own mother. The mistake of a lifetime, the mom was holding the child on top of the exhibit’s protective railing when the child lunged forward and fell in. A group of dogs then attacked the young boy and he passed away before help was able to arrive. Although the zoo blamed none other than the parents themselves, the Derkosh family did end up suing the zoo and reportedly settled out of court with a fairly large chunk of change.
3. Cleveland Metropolitan Zoo, 2015
On the brighter side of things, in 2015, an unsuspecting two-year-old boy fell into the cheetah exhibit. Although onlookers gasped and discouraged the parents from doing so, they jumped in to save their child. As luck would have it, the parents were actually able to retrieve the boy unharmed. How, do you ask? Well, it just so happens that the cheetahs were not at all out for blood that day. Rather than having to fend off the cheetahs or run for their lives, after the child fell in, the parents were able to hop in and grab the child while the cheetah family just sat back and watched. Wow!
2. Santiago Metropolitan Zoo, 2016
A bittersweet incident, earlier this year, one suicidal man went to the zoo looking to end it all. After jumping into the lion pit, the zoo was forced to kill two lions. The man apparently removed all of his clothes and walked towards the lions. This prompted zookeepers to shoot and kill both lions as they knew the man’s death would otherwise be imminent. A sad day for the Santiago Metropolitan Zoo, they later discovered the man’s note attached to his clothes and his actions began to make sense.
1. Toronto Zoo, 2016
Lastly, although this story is mild as compared to the others, it stands out as proof that society might be getting dumber after all. One woman recently jumped into a tiger enclosure to retrieve a hat. Although the woman was separated from the beasts by another fence, the hungry tiger tried his damnedest to get a taste of blood. As luck would have it, there was no immediate way for the tiger to get to her, although, it appeared that the beast could have eventually broken down the flimsy fence. Either way, the lady very quickly hopped back out of the enclosure, leaving many onlookers shaken up from witnessing the event.