The Dark Side of Nature

A couple days ago, visitors to the Los Angeles Zoo had what must have been a terrible experience. A three-month-old baby chimpanzee, who was gradually being introduced to the rest of the troop, was attacked and killed by an adult male chimp, in full view of visitors. Nothing could be done to stop the attack because it is dangerous for humans to enter the chimps’ habitat.
The unnamed baby chimp’s mother, Gracie, was allowed to keep her dead daughter’s body overnight to help her grieve.
Apparently it is not at all uncommon for male chimps to kill infants in the wild. But nobody expected it to happen in the zoo setting, and certainly not in front of a crowd.
It must have been very upsetting for the people who witnessed the incident. When you take your kids to the zoo, it’s awkward enough explaining to them just why that zebra has climbed on top of the other zebra. How do you explain to a child why a chimp has just killed a baby, seemingly without provocation?
As unpleasant as this incident is, I think that in some ways it’s a good thing that the public witnessed it. Too often we forget that chimps and the other primates are in fact wild animals. Because they are so intelligent and can be taught to do all kinds of interesting and adorable things, even to communicate with sign language, they seem to us like Disney characters come to life, or like humans covered with fur. I think it’s a disservice to animals to deny or ignore their very animalness. They should be appreciated for what they are, not the fantasy we might want them to be. Chimpanzees are quite smart, and definitely display unique persoonalities, but as we see here, and as we saw a few years ago when a “civilized” chimp nearly killed a woman in Connecticut, leaving her blinded and catastrophically disfigured, they are also several times stronger than humans and often they possess a rotten temper and are capable of frightening outbursts of rage.
We sometimes forget that nature is not necessarily merciful or kind. Runt offspring are routinely killed outright or abandoned; sick or injured members of a group are left behind for the safety of the others. It may seem cruel or heartless to us, but we need to remember that it is simply nature’s way, and animals cannot be judged by human standards.

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One Response to “The Dark Side of Nature”

  1. judylaq Says:

    Very well written. And, a good and worthy reminder. June

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