I Can’t Believe I Have to Say It: A Human Life is Not Worth More than a Gorilla’s

In I can’t believe I have to say it: a human life is worth more than a gorilla’s, Dave Bry argues that the suggestion that an animal’s life has the same value as a person’s life is “insulting, terrible, wrong, and offensive.” By showing his inability as a human to empathize with the plight of animals, Bry unwittingly makes a compelling case against humans. His justification for elevating the value of human life over animal life is even more astonishing. Bry writes, animals “don’t have the empathy, the sympathy, the language, the particular and unique sort of love that we share with each other. These are powerful, important things about being a human being, things that I think a lot of human beings don’t consider enough.”

Or, as in the case of Bry–consider too much. Bry’s article is good fodder for satire but sadly he isn’t kidding. Even a cursory study of animals would help Bry–and others who share his myopic viewpoint–learn that animals empathize and show sympathy, feel pain and experience fear, speak their own complex languages, share familial bonds, and express love for each other. I agree with Bry that these are “important things” but they are not unique to the human experience. His lack of due diligence to understand the lives of animals is insulting, terrible, wrong, and offensive

Bry’s Pollyannaish view of humans also fails to account for the many human shortcomings that animals don’t possess. Animals do not indiscriminately bomb, rape, lie, kill, steal, kidnap, abuse, transport, imprison, oppress, and terrorize for sport and profit. Regardless, the premise for Bry’s argument is a red herring. Instances where humans must make a choice between human and animal are rare. The more pressing question is, Why do humans breed, confine, abuse, and kill billions of animals for food every year when they don’t need to eat them to survive? Humans should use what Bry describes as their intelligence, empathy, language, and love to show real compassion for the most defenseless among us–the billions of animals languishing in factory farms. This porous idea that humans are so much more valuable than animals and therefore can slaughter them at will is a jaded notion that belongs in history’s trash heap.

Nobody wants to be faced with the moral dilemma of deciding to save an innocent child or a gorilla. But the more important question is, How did that child even wind up in that situation? Human greed and cruelty. Zoos shouldn’t exist in a civilized society. Rather than debating whose life is more valuable or of equal value, humans should focus on taking steps that avoid putting themselves in situations where they have to make such a decision. Cincinnati Zoo visitors wouldn’t have to leave flowers at Harambe’s cage if they would stop patronizing zoos.

To ensure we understand how little he values the life of an animal, Bry concludes his argument by declaring that even the lives of terrorists and genocidal maniacs–whom he mentions by name–are more valuable than innocent animals like Harambe. If intelligence and compassion determined right to life, as Bry argues they should, much of the human population would be decimated. In fact, using these metrics, Bry’s life would be at greater risk than the boy in Harambe’s cage.



28 thoughts on “I Can’t Believe I Have to Say It: A Human Life is Not Worth More than a Gorilla’s

  1. I’m ashamed to admit that I used to be a zookeeper once upon a time. I loved being around the animals, but because I loved and cared about them, I quickly realized that a zoo is no place for any animal. I only lasted 10 months before I had enough and turned in my notice.

    To this day, I still don’t understand how anybody in the “zoo business” who claims to love and care about animals can stand to see them confined in captivity, let alone seeing this every single day you go to work.

    Many try to justify this position with the argument that zoos are helping to save animals from extinction, comparing zoos to a “Noah’s Ark”, and one day the animals will be released back into the wild. But this argument is pointless unless there will actually be wild areas for the animals to be released back into, and I don’t think we will see that any time soon considering the rate that humans are destroying the planet.

    Harambe and countless other animals like him are forced by humans to live in captivity in an attempt to correct the damage and mistakes that we humans have done. If they don’t end up paying with their lives like Harmabe so sadly did, they still are paying with a life in captivity, due to our mistakes and lack of foresight.

    While I was working as a zookeeper and learning the truth about zoos and the AZA’s “Species Survival Plan” (SSP), I discovered that many in the “zoo business” see these animals as nothing more than simply sperm and egg banks.

    So, I agree with you 100%, Andrew…a human’s life is not worth more than a gorilla’s, and zoos should not exist in a civilized society. While I feel for the child and his mother, I can’t help from feeling that if you can’t manage to keep your child out of a gorilla enclosure, then maybe it might be better if those genes were weeded out of the gene pool anyway.

    I know that’s an awful thing to say, but I feel that Harambe’s story, from the day he was born into a life of captivity, to his tragic end, is a shame upon the human race. I just stumbled upon this quote yesterday (author unknown), and it seems very fitting:

    “As long as humans think animals don’t feel, animals will feel that humans don’t think.”

    1. I think it’s unfair to criticize the mother in this horrible scenario. Zoos advertise themselves as family-friendly (and need the money that families bring in). All zoos should have barriers that prevent the possibility of zoo-goers and animals coming in contact with each other. And I certainly assumed just that when I used to take my son to the zoo.

      That being said, I think that blaming the parents or the zoo architect misses an important point. As you say, the whole story of this gorilla is shameful. He is described as “beloved” in a major newspaper story. What does it say about us that we would permanently encage someone we love? Shameful.

      1. Family friendly does not mean stupidity which leads to an innocent being slaughtered.

    2. Hi Christine,

      Thank you for sharing your story with us. It’s a good example of people’s potential to evolve on an issue concerning animals’ best interests.

      In terms of the child’s mother, I am not going to judge her because I wasn’t there and I don’t know what happened. He could have been standing right next to her and then suddenly climbed over the railing in an instant. Anything is possible. I prefer to focus on the institution which should not exist.

      1. Yes, I agree with you both, and that was probably a bit of a snarky comment I made about “weeding about the gene pool”. The feelings I expressed regarding the mother are just my own personal feelings that I can’t deny have popped into my brain if I’m honest with myself. I realize these are my own personal feelings, however, and not necessarily reflective of the actual facts of the situation and how it occurred.

        But as I agree that a human’s life isn’t any more important than a gorilla’s, and it wasn’t Harambe’s fault the child got into the enclosure, so Harambe shouldn’t t have had to pay with his life for circumstances beyond his control. He was innocent, and there is no denying that humans, one way or the other, are the guilty party.

        Whether due to the zoo’s inadequate barriers, the mother’s lack of looking after her child, or the child rushing around on a sugar high, or some other factor not known yet…none of those things were Harambe’s fault.

        But in the end, you are right…the ultimate point to focus on is that zoos are archaic institutions from the past that shouldn’t exist at all.

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more, Andrew. I do feel for the mother of that child, but if humans didn’t have such a need to master over other sentient beings, there wouldn’t be zoos and this would not have happened. Animals do not deserve to ever be in captivity for another’s entertainment. Thank you for speaking out. There is an overwhelming amount of scientific research that proves the ability of animals to feel the full spectrum of emotions. They deserve to live as much as we do. To quote the Humane Society, it is their world, too.

    1. Thank you Patricia. Yes, simply because people say they are more important than animals doesn’t make it so. We all share the planet. Sadly, humans are hardly good stewards of it–making the argument that we are more deserving of life even more foolhardy.

  3. I could not agree more. Thank you for this article. If this poor Gorilla was not held captive to begin with, he would not have ended up murdered because of this greed. Again I will say, animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on or use for our entertainment. This poor Gorilla had a horrible life of captivity only to end in a violent death. He should have been left to live a peaceful and tranquil life in his own natural environment. This was truly a tragedy.

    1. Hello –

      Yes, “greed” is the operative word. The gorilla died because of human greed.

      Thank you for being on the right side of history. The day will come when zoos no longer exist.

  4. An excellent, easily understandable counterpoint, Andrew. And I think Christine makes the uncomfortable but very important observation that weeding out the human gene pool is something it is past time to think about. The advance of technology has exacerbated a human mindset of ultimate superiority and has seriously compromised nature’s primary law, survival of the most fit (intellectually, emotionally, physically). Humans are a species out of control, out of compassion, out of empathy, out of ethics, out of morality. Humanity has become almost without exception, a greedy, selfish, completely self absorbed species, without consideration of or respect for anything outside themselves and how some enterprise will benefit or be profitable for (some) humans. I fear these mindsets have set humanity on a very slippery slope. Those who don’t pay attention to history are doomed to repeat it. Nature has no need of humanity and if we don’t wise up and acquire some respect she will most certainly destroy the plague upon her that we have become.

      1. And if nature doesn’t do it, then a large, yet-to-be-discovered asteroid or meteorite will most likely do the job. Humanity is so poorly named. There is nothing human or kind about us. We are a blight on the Universe in general.

  5. Christine I so agree with all that you said. To take innocent animals away from their land, to cage them for humans to see is a disgrace! No one has any idea what Harambe would do with that boy. It seemed horrible, and maybe it really was. But usually animals are not hurtful, they just react as if it was their own child. And even so, if he was unusually harmful and needed to be removed from the boy why didn’t a caregiver even try to go inside the cage? It might have worked. There are a few things that should have been tried quickly. If none worked, then shooting the poor gorilla may have had to be the result. But nobody tried anything!! This might sound stupid, but please try to understand. When the Planet of The Apes was new, do you remember the humans were caged, for the ape children to view? People should go back and watch a few episodes. Maybe if they take it seriously, they might realize that what they do to animals is horrible!! In that case, in the movies, the beings with the highest intelligence caged those without. Exactly what humans are doing today!! Every animal lives together with relatives, has authority over the entire family and get along perfectly. They do have their own rules. When locked in cages, they have absolutely NO say in anything to do with their life. They can’t go outside of a small area, eat what they are supposed to, or even travel to visit other relatives. They are just kidnapped! If you really think about it, they are treated exactly as slaves were! Taken from their land, brought to a land that is nothing like where they need to be, and worked!! To show off what they would live. But it is ALL a lie!! Some zoos do try to make habitable living areas, but it is not their land!! Areas are set up so that the animals can move around a little bit, for humans to see. But none of any of these animals are showing their natural life. So every zoo in the world is lying!! It would make such sense if animal lovers could go to where these animals do live, and tape them, how they live, travel, raise children, hunt for food, and exist. Then show these films in a movie theatre free for education. And do this for every animal! So there will be NO zoos!!

    1. Even though I only worked at the zoo for 10 months, I could spend a couple days writing about the things I saw that went on behind the scenes that the public wasn’t aware of. I’m sure if those things were out in the open, then zoos couldn’t continue to claim they are so “family friendly” after all. The most honest humans of all, children, would want nothing to do with zoos if they saw the truth.

      There were other things just seemed ridiculous, for instance, the snakes exhibited in small glass enclosures. I don’t think I ever saw any of them move except when being fed (mice/rats bred at the zoo, who died horrific deaths by suffocation in a tupperware container with CO2 pumped in…or by being held by the tail and swung down so that their heads slammed onto the concrete…luckily I never had to participate in the actual killings, but I observed them many times).

      But as far as the snakes, they could have had placed realistic fake model snakes in the enclosures and I’d bet a million dollars that none of the visitors would ever notice the difference. The snakes were in the same spot, same position, day after day.

  6. Bry is so staggeringly ignorant of basic biology it is shattering to consider that he writes on such topics and gets paid. Humans have almost zero idea of the capabilities of other species, because humans for the most part are just interested in stroking themselves and declaring how great they are. The exploration by human animals of the intelligence of non-human animals is still in its infancy, not that it should matter. Do we dismiss three year old humans because they do not have the intellect of 60 year old humans? Uhh, no, we do not. Humans are animals. Not plants. Not fungi. Not slime molds. Animals. And intellect does not equate to worth, Bry. So try again.

  7. There are 7 billion people on the planet and less than 800 endangered silverback gorillas. Everybody understands the importance of the environment, ecosystems and every species. Tell me again which life we saved.

    1. 1 out of just 800 was killed to save 1 of a staggering 7 billion. If we really believe that a human’s life is not worth more than a gorilla’s, then we have to face the uncomfortable fact that that math is backwards.

  8. Probably one of the more compelling comments I’ve read on a truly tragic and completely unnecessary incident. Harambe’s death is so heart-nippingly sad. We imprison these noble creatures and put them on display and then when humans screw up, as the zoo most definitely did by not having a secure enough barrier, and the mother did by not paying closer attention to her kid, the animal pays a terrible price. How pathetic that the human race still thinks it’s acceptable to have zoos, torture and kill animals for medical science, treat food animals as nothing but commodities and regard wildlife as game for those who suffer from a very real sickness of the mind in wanting to hunt and kill them for sport. I am not proud to be a human being. Most of the time I am deeply ashamed.

    1. L,

      Thank you for sharing your position. I know that feeling and it is a sad one.

      All we can do is continue to advocate for animals as best we can. I’m sure you will continue to do that.

      Thank you for caring and taking action.

  9. The killing of this beautiful low land gorilla is devastating. In their native land they are murdered for their hands & their habitat is being destroyed. Harambe literally was minding his own business, just being a gorilla when this child fell inside the enclosure. By the way low land gorillas are not aggressive by nature. Harambe was reacting to the crowds of people, yelling,& screaming. I understand he did not respond to the zoo keepers cues however, so much chaos was taking place above him, Harambe was watching the crowd insteadof reacting to the keepers. I’d be willing a to say that a human would of been just as distracted. There is so much blame to go around, the enclosure wasn’t secure, the parents weren’t watching their child and an innocent animal died for a list of neglectful issues. We are the keepers of these magnificent animals and are doing a horrible job. I personally hate zoos but, are necessary evils because of the environmental issues regarding habitats.

  10. Dave Bry’s life is certainly worth less than any gorillla’s life. Same to the lives of all people who think like him.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s