Social media erupted after a 4-year-old child fell into the gorilla enclosure at Cincinatti Zoo, USA, last month, an encounter which led to zoo staff shooting the endangered gorilla dead.
Two female gorillas were recalled immediately after the child fell into the pit while the third, a 200kilo, male named Harambe had to be killed by the zoo’s Dangerous Animal Response Team.
Zoo Director Thane Maynard offered ‘thoughts and prayers’ the boy and his family, whilst defending the decision of the Response Team who shot the gorilla ten minutes after the child fell in.
He said: “It is important to note that with the child still in the exhibit, tranquilizing the 450-pound gorilla was not an option.
“Tranquilizers do not take effect for several minutes and the child was in imminent danger.
“On top of that, the impact from the dart could agitate the animal and cause the situation to get much worse.”
Footage of the incident shows the gorilla standing over the child in a moat, before dragging him around the enclosure like a rag doll.
Animal Rights campaigners were quick to criticise the zoo’s handling of the incident, while critics also questioned the role of the child’s parents in the incident.
Maynard also said: “We are all devastated that this tragic accident resulted in the death of a critically-endangered gorilla.”
The boy was taken to Children’s Hospital Medical Center after being removed from the exhibit, and was released on Saturday night.
Michael Budkie, of animals rights group Stop Animal Exploitation Now, said the zoo should be fined for having an exhibit that the public could access.
He also referred to an incident earlier in the year when Cincinatti Zoo drew criticism after two polar bears escaped their enclosure, and wandered into a service corridor.
In a press release following the latest incident, Maynard defended the zoo’s safety record, stating that the barrier in use at the enclosure had been effective for 38 years.
He also stated that the zoo would study the incident ‘as we work toward continuous improvement for the safety of our visitors and animals.’
TNT News Lewis Chapman