The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday October 19th

Column: Royalty of the untamed world


Mejs Hasan

I’ve been thinking about Harambe, the gorilla killed to protect a little mite of humanity that had tumbled into his enclosure. People are feeling helpless over the gorilla’s fate. But it occurred to me that while we can’t help Harambe, we can channel our grief towards safeguarding his wild kinsmen.

How about the sweet pygmy elephant? They live far away on the island of Borneo, where their rainforest home is burned and chopped to make way for palm oil plantations. If you read ingredient lists, you’ll know that palm oil has ingratiated its way into our ice cream, frozen dinners, candy, snacks and even soap. Major food companies have signed grandiose pledges to source their palm oil sustainably, but for some odd reason, the rainforests keep diminishing. Habitats for elephants, orangutans and other splendid species falter with them.

If we’re sad about Harambe, then we can do our bit for other kings and queens of the untamed world by choosing our foods thoughtfully and holding companies to their promises. We don’t have to just consume things blindly; we can do our research first.

Or, perhaps Harambe’s demise can inspire more sympathy for polar bears. We see their starving ribs in ragged fur, stranded on ever smaller glaciers as ice melts. We can do everything in our power to keep the global temperature from crossing the no-man’s-land threshold of a two degree Celsius increase. We can bike and walk rather than drive. We can elect people who are equally committed to building safe bike lanes as they are to building highways, and who improve train and bus systems so they’re more fun to ride.

When we see people in town parks tossing plastic bags aside to catch on the wind, we can tell them that many such bags end up in oceans. Sea turtles, mistaking the bags for their preferred jellyfish snack, eat the plastic and can’t digest it. Starved sea turtles corpses have been found along our coasts so full of plastic that their stomachs had room for nothing else. If we’re sad about Harambe, we can help his wild brethren by throwing trash out carefully, recycling and reusing.

Or when the local power company spills coal ash into our rivers, decimating our own family of local wildlife, then we can demand that it’s cleaned up. We can refuse to re-elect governors who once worked for those companies, owned their stock and might be more sympathetic to business cheats than healthy ecosystems.

So I tell you: if you’re sad about Harambe, and maybe disparaged the mom while you were at it, don’t despair! Think of all the things you can do to protect beautiful, imperiled creatures on Earth, and then go do them.


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