The Cincinnati zoo has recently adopted a new gorilla named Mshindi; one year after the passing of Harambe. Undoubtedly an icon, Harambe showed the world how memes are such unique and powerful tools of influence with millennials. After hearing the news about Mshindi’s arrival, I immediately reminisced on how funny and big the Harambe meme was in 2016, and how Mshindi is one important part outlining its success. The meme created a tidal wave of internet mockery that influenced so many into standing up for a deceased critically endangered animal. One that unfortunately belongs to a very real life issue in the turbid political landscape of the Congo. Poaching, disease, and habitat loss have decreased the population of low-land gorillas by 80% over the last three generations. Remember the viral news headlines about the Ebola virus? It still exists within gorilla populations and is ever more dangerous to the dwindling size of what’s left. When the internet decided to make one member of this species an icon, I was confused. But standing up for animals in public spaces is often not very interesting to most people-which is why this case got me hooked into understanding what actually went down.
The internet, as we all know, can do many things on a wide scale; in this case bringing powerful amounts attention and energy through humour. I was disgusted with the memes at first, but they proved a point. That people can shift their perspective and raise awareness about an animal that has been poached and killed off for too long. I sense when I care about the future of animals, I’m often joined by a community that feels like were running backwards; never getting the attention we feel we deserve when speaking out publicly about any of it. But this meme was capable of not only casting humorous remarks, but it forced out real emotions towards the welfare of an animal, and I felt like I was joined by millions. Part of this mass wide ‘joke’, was that any contentment that he deserved to die was outrageous.
The Cincinnati zoo has doubled down on conservation efforts with gorillas after hearing these loud opinions over social media. They silenced themselves from the press, but they now put more funding into saving gorillas, marked by the adoption of Mshindi. I am hopeful that adopting this new gorilla will help conservation efforts, through public education, funding campaigns, and research. While many were upset with the Harambe meme, it did manage to push the zoo’s gears up a notch positively. The zoo was put into a rather difficult predicament with the boy falling into the cage, and I am aware that by putting the death of Harambe on full blast to the world was quite immature with respect to Cincinnati. I am glad to see them moving forward with Mshindi.
I’m also excited to see what pops up next, what the internet will accomplish and what it will miss. It may have taken an unorthodox approach to spreading the word about gorilla conservation, but it made it seem cool. The power of this meme highlighted a very real thing about the power of influence and the internet as a tool to spread for positive change. While memes are very random, and often come when we are least expecting it, I wonder if this trend will continue for other random conservation concerns.
Please comment below and let me know how you felt about the meme. Do you think it was a positive pace in change for gorilla conservation?