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'Jabari: Symbol of the Times?' - A Commentary

By Tom Dodge, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX – The police who shot Jabari the gorilla at the Dallas Zoo felt their lives were in peril. We are all capable of doing anything when terrified. I can't say I would have done otherwise. After escaping his habitat, Jabari bit a woman and pushed her and some children against a wall. If he had wanted to, he could have killed them.

He was thirteen and in the prime of life, the zookeepers said, meaning he had reached sexual maturity. This is a dangerous time for gorillas in captivity. Did the zoo make special provisions to accommodate this behavior change? Zoo officials say the zoo is short of funds these days. Does this mean understaffed?

A three-hundred pound gorilla can sit anywhere he likes, apparently only if guns are not involved. Jabari weighed three hundred pounds and all he wanted was to sit on the park bench with a girlfriend. But these animals are rare and finding him a sweetie would have
taken a lot of money. In the newspaper, zoo officials said they doubt whether he will ever be replaced.

We all wish he could have been captured alive. Police said tranquilizer guns were too risky in the situation. Real bullets ended the danger. It seems that violence is the answer to too many problems these days.

But it is a very violent world now and spending time thinking of how an animal's life could have been saved seems trivial. But I see Jabari as a symbol of needless violence in a time when fewer and fewer people want to take the time to resolve problems peacefully. Everyone is in such a rush.

Without straying too far, I want to bring up that wonderful scene in "A Beautiful Mind" when the mathematician John Nash solves the problem of who gets the beautiful blonde in the bar. If he and his three friends all go for her, they will get in each other's way and no one will get her. Doing so, they will alienate her three friends because no one wants to be second choice. His answer? Nobody goes for the blonde but for her friends instead. Each gets a girl and because the blonde is beautiful, she can get anyone else she wants. Everyone is happy.

But this kind of reasoning requires intellectual ability, patience, and individual willingness to sacrifice for the good of the group. These qualities seem to be in short supply.

Frank Buck would have brought Jabari back alive. He was the big jungle man from Gainesville who provided the Dallas Zoo with over a thousand animals in 1922. In his book, "On Jungle Trails," he describes how he captured one of Jabari's ancestors in the wild.

Buck ordered the trees surrounding the treed animal chopped down so he had nowhere to go. Then they hoisted a trap baited with ripe bananas over a hundred feet into his tree. They waited five days for the hungry ape to go into the trap. It was not kind, but he brought him back alive.

Jabari may have given police no choice. It is said he charged them. He probably knew it was suicide. The poet James Dickey wrote a poem, "The Summons," about an animal responding to a hunter's imitation of its mating call. It does this knowing that it means its death. It can't help it. It will "die of its love," he writes.

I can't help thinking that if money had been available to give Jabari a mate, he would never have left his habitat, and would not have died of his love.


Tom Dodge is a writer from Midlothian. To comment on his essay, you can call (214) 740-9338 or email us through our website at KERA.ORG.