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People upset about gorilla’s death may want to see ‘Unlocking the Cage’ at the Coolidge

Steven Wise and Chris Hegedus at the premiere of "Unlocking The Cage" in New York last week.Mike Coppola/Getty Images for HBO

This weekend’s shocking events at the Cincinnati Zoo, where zookeepers shot and killed a rare gorilla after a 4-year-old boy somehow slipped into its enclosure, upset a lot of people and raises questions about how the situation was handled. The 17-year-old male gorilla, named Harambe, was a western lowland gorilla, a species that’s critically endangered, with fewer than 175,000 alive in the wild. Steven Wise is among those who are appalled by the animal’s death. Wise, a graduate of BU Law School, is president of the Nonhuman Rights Project Inc., which is working to change the common law status of some animals — from “things” lacking legal rights to “persons” with rights. Wise is also the subject of a new movie by celebrated documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker and his partner Chris Hegedus that’ll be screened at the Coolidge Corner Theatre June 26. (Pennebaker and Hegedus will be there.) Called “Unlocking the Cage,” the movie is about Wise’s legal maneuvers — and the public’s increasing receptiveness — to protect “nonhuman” animals.

“There are all kinds of problems with what happened in Cincinnati,” Wise told us Monday. “One is these parents are out of their minds irresponsible and, two, apparently the zoo has some kind of SWAT team that has no idea how to handle gorillas.


“But the biggest problem,” he said, “is that these extraordinarily amazing beings are living in a stupid enclosure in a zoo and being treated as slaves.”

Wise said he’s fundamentally opposed to zoos, but he goes to see what’s happening there.

“I see zero education going on,” he said. “I see parents saying, ‘Look at the funny animals,’ and keeping animals enslaved for that purpose is just so awful.”

Names can be reached at Follow Mark Shanahan on Twitter @MarkAShanahan.