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Media-Vu's take on the gorilla shot dead in a zoo to save the life of a 4-year old boy


It could have been a human tragedy. As it was Harambe the gorilla was shot dead. A 4-year old boy had fallen into the animal’s enclosure in Cincinnati Zoo and was in mortal danger. Even if the 17-year old silverback didn’t intend to hurt him, his sheer size and weight according to experts, could have inflicted serious injuries to the boy at any moment.

Social media went into meltdown. Mostly attacking the Zoo for killing an innocent ape. Perhaps they saw things through the eyes of Disney or Hollywood rather than listening to his keepers who knew what Harambe’s real behaviour was like.

Media point of view

The rights and wrongs of what happened will continue to be debated for some time. Outrage at the murder of an innocent ape. Anger at the boy’s parents for not taking sufficient care of their son and so on.

But what about Cincinnati Zoo? How did they react to the crisis?

Zoo Director Thane Maynard arranged a press conference soon after the incident was over. And he followed a tried and trusted crisis management formula. Namely the 3-R’s. And I don’t mean reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic!

The 3 R’s

So what are these 3 R’s?

They are:
1. Regret.
2. Reason.
3. Remedy.

The first rule is to express heartfelt regret about what happened. A human life was involved and an animal had to be destroyed. So the response rightly is to show empathy and understanding for all those affected.

This is what the Director said:
“We are heartbroken about losing Harambe, but a child’s life was in danger and a quick decision had to be made by our Dangerous Animal Response Team.”

Articulating professional and personal feelings showed he meant what he was saying. Lawyers sometimes twitch about an honest and human reaction fearing legal consequences. But expressing sincere regret shouldn’t see a business end up in court.

The advice at this stage is never to admit responsibility because the facts haven't been established. It’s simply not known, for example, whether or not the Zoo was in any way negligent.

The second R is the reason why or how it happened. Again a press briefing is not the place to talk about liability. It is an opportunity to run through what is known. And as in this case it allows the Zoo to take control of the situation. By not hiding information and explaining that this is all that is known to date, you limit rumour, gossip and speculation.

Remedy is the remaining R. You commit yourself to examining and investigating all aspects of the incident. To find out the cause in order to prevent something similar from happening again.

Once again Thane Maynard’s words did just that. He said:
"The idea of waiting and shooting (the gorilla) with a hypodermic was not a good idea. Because that would have definitely created alarm in the male gorilla. When you dart an animal, anesthetic doesn’t work in one second, it works over a period of a few minutes to 10 minutes. The risk (as we saw it) was due to the power of that animal."

In an unambiguous quote supported by expertise he explains why the gorilla was shot but without apportioning blame.

Thane Maynard is a respected Ape expert and known internationally for his innovation and dedication to wildlife preservation. The zoo rightly explained his credentials by referring to the books he’s written on these topics. He’s also known as the ‘90-second Naturalist’ for his long running radio programme on the subject.

So when the expert states:
"He (the gorilla) was acting erratically, he was disoriented. It’s due to his strength, that's where the danger was," the point made is unequivocal.

How to handle a crisis

It was undoubtedly terrible for the gorilla. But with such a sensitive and contentious story Cincinnati Zoo delivered an effective damage limitation response which helped them manage a potentially ruinous situation.

Could you handle an unexpected crisis that threatened your business? I hope so. If not, Media-Vu is here to help.

Jungle Book Epilogue

Some breaking news from our ‘Ooh-be-do I want to leave the EU’ correspondent:
Racoons, chipmunks, coatis and other animals popular with zoo visitors will disappear from collections under an EU regulation that bans keepers from breeding them.
The animals are on a list of species deemed to be invasive in one or more of the EU member states. Officials said there was a risk that they could escape from zoos and become established in the wild, threatening native species. *Ends*
Just thought you ought to know before June 23rd.

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