— Cincinnati Zoo (@CincinnatiZoo) May 27, 2016
Reaction on the internet has been swift and fierce following the tragic killing of Harambe, an endangered Lowland Gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo who had just turned 17, following an incident in which a child slipped through the zoo’s barrier and fell into the gorilla habitat.
Harambe took an interest in the boy, who had fallen into the shallow moat around the enclosure, and for an excruciating 10 minutes – as videos show – picked up, at times seemed to protect, and at one point violently dragged the boy for several meters. The boy was later hospitalized with injuries but will survive. Harambe was shot to death by zoo keepers worried that simply tranquilizing the gorilla would agitate it and put the child in further danger.
Spectators at the zoo, who can be heard on the videos, were understandably panicked. The boy was reportedly seated between the gorilla’s legs when it was shot and killed.
Reaction to Harambe’s death has been strong, with many people faulting the mother for not keeping an eye on her child closely enough.
Here is a video of Harambe taken in January:
It’s not clear how the boy was able to enter the enclosure in the first place, but Maynard told reporters that it was the first time anyone has breached the steel-wire fence of the gorilla exhibit in its 38-year history. A witness told WLWT that she had heard the boy telling his mother beforehand that he wanted to go into the water in the habitat, and that she had repeatedly told him he could not, though it seems she was also trying to watch several other kids, so its possible the boy just slipped away. Another witness told the Cincinnati Enquirer that she saw the boy in the bushes beyond the fence and tried to grab him, but it all happened too fast and soon the boy had fallen the 10 to 12 feet down into the water.
Cincinnati police told the Enquirer that no charges would be filed against the parents of the boy over the incident.
Watch Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard’s press conference. Maynard said they had never had an incident like it at the zoo and that he feels zookeepers made the right choice:
The zoo also released a statement on Facebook:
“We are heartbroken about losing Harambe, but a child’s life was in danger and a quick decision had to be made by our Dangerous Animal Response Team,” said Zoo Director Thane Maynard. “Our first response was to call the gorillas out of the exhibit. The two females complied, but Harambe did not. 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.”
Zoo staff and Cincinnati Fire Department (CFD) were the first responders on the scene. According to a CFD incident report, the gorilla was violently dragging and throwing the child. Minutes later, the Zoo’s Dangerous Animal Response Team arrived and made the difficult decision to put the gorilla down to save the child. The response team includes full-time keepers, veterinarians, maintenance, Zoo leadership and security staff members. All members are trained and certified annually by the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office.
The four-year-old boy was transported to Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CHMC) after being removed from the exhibit. The child was released from CHMC Saturday night.
“We’re glad to hear that the child is going to be okay. We’re touched by the outpouring of support from the community and our members who loved Harambe,” said Maynard. “The Zoo family is going through a painful time, and we appreciate your understanding and know that you care about our animals and the people who care for them.”
Gorilla World opened in 1978, and this is the first time there has been a breach. The exhibit is inspected regularly by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and adheres to safety guidelines.
“The safety of our visitors and our animals is our #1 priority,” said Maynard. “The barrier that we have in place has been effective for 38 years. Nevertheless, we will study this incident as we work toward continuous improvement for the safety of our visitors and animals.”
The Zoo is home to nine western lowland gorillas. There are about 765 gorillas in zoos worldwide including approximately 360 in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Program (SSP) for this species. Western lowland gorillas are critically-endangered in the wild, with less than 175,000 individuals. Due primarily to habitat destruction caused by logging, mineral mining and agricultural expansion, wild gorilla numbers continue to shrink. The Cincinnati Zoo supports wild gorilla conservation efforts like the Mbeli Bai Study in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo.
Social media has not held back:
— DEWANIE KIM ♥️ (@waniedoo) May 30, 2016
— Melanie Kendrick (third finger left hand) 💍 (@lilmissgiggles5) May 30, 2016
— seawildearth (@seawildearth) May 30, 2016
Gorillas are self-aware. They love, laugh, sing, play, and grieve. Western lowland gorillas are gentle animals. They don’t attack unless they’re provoked.
Who can forget gorilla Binti Jua, who gently picked up an unconscious boy who had fallen into her enclosure and cradled him in her arms before carefully handing him over to Brookfield Zoo keepers?
Zoos cannot even begin to meet these magnificent animals’ complex needs.
What You Can Do
Choose cruelty-free entertainment. Take a hike in the woods and watch wildlife in their natural habitat.
People are leaving flowers and notes beside a gorilla statue at the zoo:
— Martin Bedoya (@MartinBedoya87) May 29, 2016
A vigil is scheduled for Monday afternoon at the zoo.
— WLWT (@WLWT) May 29, 2016