Harambe's death, the Disney gator attack and online outrage

A visitor touches a picture of Harambe at a makeshift memorial outside the Gorilla World exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, on June 7.

Story highlights

  • Online conversations are comparing Cincinnati gorilla shooting with alligator attack
  • The incidents happened under different circumstances but elicited some similar reactions

(CNN)It was only a matter of time, really.

After a toddler was killed in a gator attack at a Disney World resort, people were quick to compare the incident to the shooting death of Harambe the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo in May.
    In the same breath (or tweet), they evoked issues of parental responsibility, of intent, of race and of the very value of human life.
    The incidents certainly share superficial similarities: Both times, children were in close encounters with dangerous animals while under the supervision of their parents.
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    But is it productive to search any deeper for some kind of connection?
    Let's compare:

    Different animals, different outcomes

    The Disney incident:
    The most obvious difference between the two is that a child died. An alligator snatched 2-year-old Lane Graves, and he drowned in the waters of a lagoon at the Grand Floridian Resort. An animal killed him -- and in the course of the investigation, several alligators were euthanized. There was grief for both the boy and the animals.
    The zoo incident:
    In Cincinnati, the encounter was far more nuanced, far more fraught with hypotheticals. In video of the incident, Harambe, a male silverback gorilla, is seen interacting with a 3-year-old boy who had fallen into his enclosure. Whether his actions were predatory or benign is subject to interpretation. Even noted primatologist Jane Goodall expressed uncertainty, writing to the zoo that "it looked as though the gorilla was putting an arm round the child." The gorilla was killed. There wasn't any grief for the child; he survived. It poured in for the gorilla. Harambe's defenders claimed that it wouldn't have hurt the child and that the decision to kill it was unjustified. Other animal experts, including keepers at the Cincinnati Zoo, claimed the gorilla's death, though unfortunate, was necessary.

    Different environments, different rules

    The zoo incident:
    A zoo enclosure is not a place for people. Hence, the retaining walls and safety railings. Because of this, when the young boy fell into Harambe's habitat, the situation became one of immediate and unquestionable urgency. Zoo Director Thane Maynard said the boy was in "imminent danger." In an interview with CNN, animal expert stressed that "the zoo is not your babysitter" and urged parents to be more vigilant around their kids.
    The Disney incident:
    The danger of the situation in Orlando was more unclear. People debated whether the family could have known about the resort's risks. Some pointed out the "No Swimming" signs posted around the lagoon; others argued the signs weren't adequate warning -- especially for tourists unfamiliar with the ubiquity of Florida's alligators.

    Different reactions, same targets

    Both episodes were so emotional and so shocking, people were quick to parse blame and assign outrage.
    The zoo incident:
    After Harambe's death, people online lashed out in every direction: at the zoo, for what they thought was a rash decision. At the parents, accusing them of neglect and demanding that they be criminally charged. (They were investigation but ultimately weren't charged.)
    The Disney incident:
    Though people certainly heaped an abundance of blame on the parents (again, accusing them of being neglectful), there were others who criticized Disney for not making its guests more aware of the dangers of the local wildlife.
    And, of course, there was the most vocal faction: people who chose instead to get angry at each other, mostly at the idea that anyone would place blame on a parent mere hours after their child died.