Aligators, Gorillas, and Inconsistency

Tony Arsenal comments
| National

On June 14th, 2016, a young boy was attacked by an alligator while wading in an artificial lagoon in a Disney resort in Florida. The following day divers recovered the remains of the young boy. His death was ruled by the medical examiners to be a result of drowning and traumatic injuries.

Since then at least five alligators have been removed from the lagoon and euthanized in an effort to identify which animal attacked the boy. While some questions have been raised regarding the role of parental responsibility in this case, by and large the criticism has been oriented toward Disney.

However, one cannot help but compare this incident to the recent incident at the Cincinnati Zoo in which a young boy fell into a gorilla exhibit. The gorilla, Harmabe, was shot in order to save the boy. The death of the gorilla sparked a national outrage. There were calls for the prosecution of the parents, statements which implied or stated that the boy should have been left to die in order to preserve the gorilla's life, and that the Zoo should be shut down.

We see no such cries in the case of the killed alligators, and we must wonder why. Shooting Harambe unquestionably saved the boy's life. Killing these alligators did nothing to save the boy, or even to find the boy's body. Even if one of these alligators was the one who took the boy, the other four were not. Yet there has been no significant outrage caused by the death of these animals.

We can only speculate as to the reason, but allow me to provide a few suggestions. First, these alligators don't have names. Like the shooting of Cecil the Lion, the death of Harambe involved an animal with a name. With a name comes an identity. These alligators are nameless, identityless, and anonymous animals. Secondly, both Cecil the Lion, and even more so Harambe the Gorilla, were mammals. They are, at least in theory, soft and cuddly. They care for their young like humans do. They often display emotion and personality like humans do. In short, we care about them because they are like us. Alligators on the other hand (which are actually quite good parents) are cold and alien. They aren't soft, they don't exhibit emotion.

This demonstrates the fickle and inconsistent nature of our postmodern culture. When a gorilla who is posing an immanent threat to the life of a human child is shot in an effort (and a successful one at that) to save that human child's life... everyone loses their mind. When five alligators are euthanized to basically satisfy our curiosity as to which one was the culprit, no one even comments on it.

This too points to the recognition of the imago Dei. Traits which remind us of humans, when attributed to animals, lead us to value them in a way that is similar to the way we value humans. The more like us an animal is, the more outraged we are when they die.


Tony Arsenal

Tony Arsenal (MA Church History, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; MA Theology, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is a Reformed historian, theologian, and blogger. He currently lives in the Upper Valley region of New Hampshire with his wife Ashley, where he works at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center as the Living Kidney Donor Program Assistant. He also blogs for and at his own site, The views expressed in Tony's articles are his own and do not reflect the views of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center or any other organization that Tony is affiliated with.

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