As a parent, I’ve certainly been touched in recent weeks by stories involving the traumatic moments where toddlers and wildlife intersect.
First, we all read the story originating at the Cincinnati Zoo about a 3-year-old boy who managed to find a way to slip into the enclosure of a western lowland gorilla that some human named Harambe, one eventually killed by a member of the zoo’s dangerous animal response team.
While it certainly wasn’t Harambe’s fault that the child somehow managed to find a way to get over a moat wall before falling into the water, setting the whole frightening scene in motion, anymore than it was Harambe’s fault that he was living a captive life rather than having the freedom to roam in his native environment, say, in Cameroon or Equatorial Guinea, where his kind are generally found, my belief is every means needed to be taken to protect the child, regardless of the scores of animal lovers outraged by the gorilla’s demise.
Sorry, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals advocates, when it comes to a situation where an animal is a threat to human life, for me, humans trump any western lowland gorilla or, for that matter, anything else that may have gone up the ramp of Noah’s Ark 10 times out of 10.
Last week, another incident occurred, one with far more tragic consequences, in a place ironically called “The Happiest Place on Earth,” Disney World in Orlando, Florida, when a 2-year-old by was snatched as he played in ankle-deep water at the Seven Seas Lagoon by an alligator and killed a scant few hundred feet from the Grand Floridian Resort, considered Disney’s most opulent lodging.
In both stories, I felt somewhat of a personal connection to the sites where the events occurred. Not only do I remember taking my little Shannon and Katie to the Cincy Zoo and, no doubt, looked at a gorilla exhibit but I also remember well the Disney area where a little boy left a world he barely knew.
In 1988, the very first year the Grand Floridian opened, I grabbed the family and headed for a Disney vacation and went first class — a prepaid plan where all meals were covered as well as in-between snacks and admissions to the parks and a week’s worth of nights at The Grand Floridian. I remember, we rented little motor boats called Sprites, laughing as we zipped across Seven Seas Lagoon.
Whenever there are incidents involving trauma or even death and children, there will always be those who will look for what could have been done to prevent what happened. In both of these cases, the businesses rely so heavily on children to turn their profits, of course, there were immediate reassessments of the facilities’ safety measures.
At the zoo, the exhibit was closed for 10 days, and when it reopened, there was a new barrier in place, one almost a foot higher, with no gaps at the bottom or top, with added rope netting just over the barrier.
At Disney, within a couple of days after the child was killed, signs were posted around all its water properties warning of possible alligators, instead of just the no-swimming signs that were up, and barriers are also being erected. Discussions are ongoing as to more permanent and long-term solutions to avert tragedy.
And, then there will always be some who blame parents whose vigilance was lax. After all, parents are the caregivers and protectors of their children, right? However, unless there is real negligence that can be proved when a child becomes a victim, say when a parent is drunk at the wheel, my heart always goes out to the parents involved when tragedy and children find their way into the same sentence.
For most of us parents with grown children who managed to get them raised and nudged out of the nest, proud to see them flying on their own, we’re very aware that certainly luck had as much to do with our efforts as anything else. We know we were at times distracted for a few seconds in our oversights, but tragedy never ensued.
In my own case, how different a script could have been written, one for which I’d have spent a lifetime in atonement, if I hadn’t found my little 3-year-old Shannon, who managed while I was momentarily distracted to slip out of a rented-house screen door in 1978 and walk down the entire block, before pausing at Bellefontaine Avenue, transfixed by all the cars whizzing by Lima Memorial Hospital, just before a sprinting, frantic young father swooped her up.
So, as I have followed these two stories in recent weeks, how very easy it is for me to say what we all should say so often as we look around our world, as in “There but for the grace of God. …”
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.