By Sarah Brett

The definition of a zoo is an establishment which maintains a collection of wild animals for study and conservation. Yet it seems lately that that definition isn’t holding up, as zoos aren’t exactly doing a pretty good job of conserving their animals.

Most of us know that euthanasia is the process of intentionally killing an animal for reasons such as pain relief, or cases where the animal being a threat to either other animals or humans.

It may seem like the only option, but is it the right option?

Recently, the world saw the killing of two beautiful lions held in captivity in a Chilean zoo after a 20 year old naked man, claiming to be a prophet, threw himself into their enclosure and repeatedly taunted them. The creatures did what any animal (and some humans) would do when they feel threatened; attack.

Video footage shows the deranged man latch himself onto the felines before they began to ‘play with him’. Getting mauled is just what he wanted, as he left a suicide note claiming he would be saved by God.

Well, he wasn’t saved by God. He was saved by zoo officials who decided to shoot the animals dead in order to save his life.

If Franco Ferrada had have genuinely fallen into their den and not deliberately taunted them, most would have agreed to save his life in this drastic manner. But this man deliberately aggravated the lions, intentionally jumping into their enclosure- and in turn basically murdered them.

In hindsight, authorities had no way of knowing that this man had the intention of killing himself, for all they could have known he may have been having a nervous breakdown or he may have been insane – one of which is probably true. But if a person wants to end their life, putting other creatures lives at risk is wrong.

Insanely enough, that wasn’t the only incident of that nature in recent times. We had a very similar event occur this week, where a four year old escaped the watch of his parents and made his way inside a gorilla enclosure in Cincinnati Zoo, Ohio.

The curious little boy climbed through a mesh fence and fell down 15ft into a moat surrounding the animals. The boy was approached by the silver back gorilla, grabbed by the ankle and dragged around the moat. Debate rages about whether he was protecting or attacking the boy, some people believe he was protecting the child the same way he would protect his offspring.

But in situations like this, you have to think of the bigger picture: Are you willing to let a family lose a child who has his whole life ahead of him, or let an animal die instead?

A staggering 300,000 people have signed an online petition to hold the parents responsible for the incident, but pointing fingers won’t do much good. Accidents happen, and unfortunately this accident ended in an endangered life being lost. Parents can’t possibly watch their child every second of every day; a curious four year old will escape every now and again. It’s just sad that it had to happen in such a dangerous situation.

I still believe that the gorilla was protecting him and I want to believe that there was another option besides killing the creature, but tranquillizers wouldn’t have worked in time and any physical intervention from keepers would have been too dangerous.

The main question that needs to be asked is how a four year old managed to get into this enclosure in the first place. You can somewhat expect a fully grown man to make his way into the lions den, but it should not be that easy for a child. I think zoos are more focused on keeping the animals inside that they are about keeping people on the outside. This situation hopefully may bring light to improving the safety standards on all exhibits.

Instincts are the most important thing in the animal kingdom, they keep the food chain flowing and balance in the wild. These animals rely on their instincts to hunt for food or to keep safe from predators. The lions, being natural predators, saw a meal dance in front of them. Harambe, the only male gorilla in his enclosure, instinctively chose to protect his clan from an outsider in his den. None of us will ever know exactly what was going on in the animals head,  but I imagine he didn’t think about the family the little guy has, nor the impact of his actions.

Realistically, the only course of action now is not pointing fingers, but ensuring there are more precautions in place to prevent this type of thing happening again, whether it be faster acting tranquillizers or professionals trained to approach the animals . Some sort of non-lethal safeguard should be there to protect the lives of animals and humans should a bizarre event like this happen again.

And whatever side you’re on, let’s all agree to hope this doesn’t happen again.