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[Editorial] What the death of a gorilla tells us about ... us

The shooting of Harambe the gorilla to save a 3-year-old boy who’d fallen into an enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo whipped the Internet into a frenzy. The boy’s mother has been branded a terrible parent and authorities are investigating the incident and the zoo.

We’re not here to referee Web flaming or to second-guess zookeepers’ actions. Let’s turn the scope around and examine a deeper — and healthier — theme: The intense public outcry over this killing reflects a broad shift in public attitudes about the treatment and welfare of animals. That includes not just animals in zoos, but creatures in the wild. Livestock raised for food. And animals used in medical research or entertainment.

In one industry after another, the expectations of people — consumers — have prompted huge changes in how animals are treated, reports Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States in his new book “The Humane Economy.”

“Every day there is less room in our civic conversations for discredited ideas about animals existing for whatever use we humans concoct, and less tolerance for self-serving rationalizations for calculated cruelty,” he writes. “There’s a groundswell among consumers who not only believe that animals matter but also put those principles into action and make choices that drive change in the marketplace.”

In other words: Heightened concerns over the treatment of animals is no longer seen as the domain of an obsessed few. It’s mainstream — and that’s a hopeful sign for humanity.

Some recent evidence of this welcome attitude shift:

— In January, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus declared that it would end its elephant acts and retire all of its touring elephants this spring. Bravo.

— In March, SeaWorld announced that it would stop breeding orca whales and phase out shows featuring the whales. “Watching a trainer stand like a unicorn’s horn on an orca as it rushes through water and leaps vertically into the air? Not long ago, that would have been called priceless,” wrote Tampa Bay Times business columnist Robert Trigaux. “Now it’s politically incorrect. Even Neanderthal.” Exactly right.

— Just this week came word from Thailand that officials had removed tigers from a tourist attraction in a Buddhist temple run by monks, who were suspected of illegal trafficking in the animals. “There was some resistance from the community. They didn’t understand why we were taking them (the tigers) from the temple when they look so peaceful and fine at the temple,” a Thai official said. “We tried ... explaining to them that the tigers belong to the country.” Repeat: The tigers belong to the country.

That preservation-first attitude explains why we supported a ban on bobcat hunting in Illinois. It should be reimposed.

It explains why universities and other labs have scaled back testing on animals.

And why grocery shelves and restaurants are filled with eggs produced by cage-free chickens and meat from humanely raised animals.

Animals live and die in a world shaped largely by humans. We’re the caretakers. We profit from them. We are nourished by them, not just at the dinner table, but in our homes and in our lives.

The killing of Harambe was a judgment call under pressure. But there are still too many people who see nothing wrong with traveling halfway around the world to kill a magnificent animal just for the thrill of it. Hence, the worldwide revulsion after a Minnesota dentist lured Cecil the lion from the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe to shoot him with a crossbow, skin him and behead him as a trophy.

There are still too many people who aren’t worried when species after species dwindle or disappear because of poaching and neglect.

Every generation inherits a world and its creatures. Every generation should aspire to bequeath a world that is, at the very least, undiminished.

Chicago Tribune

(Tribune Content Agency)
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