You feel sorry for the bereaved mother who has lost her child.
You feel sorry for the keepers whose hopes have been dashed.
But the death of Tiny, the infant gorilla at London Zoo, apparently following a failed attempt to introduce Kesho to his mother, one of the small group of 3 females in the controversial £5.3 million Gorilla Kingdom, is a tragic wake-up call – it is time for change.
The zoo concept is past its sell-by date. Vastly expensive, out of touch with the natural world, wasteful, increasingly irrelevant and littered with tragedies such as the death of Tiny.
Although there is no evidence that Kesho was targeting Tiny in the fracas that ensued, infanticide (where an incoming adult male kills any unweaned infants sired by his predecessor) has been reported in wild gorillas. We are therefore surprised that the Zoo thought that introductions between an adult male and an unrelated infant would end in success. In fact, leading primatologist Prof. Volker Sommer has subsequently labelled London Zoo “incompetent” for ignoring 40 years of accumulated research into infanticide in primates, recommending that the Zoo should no longer keep apes.
When questioned about the wisdom of introducing Kesho to the group, the Zoo apparently said that it would have been “unnatural” to keep the females without a male. Close to the truth but not quite right. What is unnatural is to keep gorillas, tigers, lions, giraffe and 18,480 of other wild animals on less than 40 acres in the centre of London (or Paris, Rome, Edinburgh, New York – take your pick).
Are we at a tipping point? Will the loss of Tiny cause a shift in the public mood away from pseudo nature towards protecting wild species in the wild habitats that they rely on? If it is, then may be this latest incident at London Zoo would not have been totally in vain.