East Tennessee native Jack Hanna: Cincinnati Zoo made right decision in shooting gorilla

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Columbus Zoo Director Emeritus Jack Hanna says officials at the Cincinnati Zoo made the right decision in shooting a gorilla after a four year old boy fell in to the gorilla enclosure Saturday.

“There was absolutely no other decision to make,” Hanna told WATE 6 On Your Side sister station WCMH, adding that a zoo’s “responsibility is the safety of our visitors, our animals and our staff.”

Terri Tennant was among hundreds of visitor to the Columbus Zoo Monday. She says she felt drawn to the zoo because of what had happened in Cincinnati. She has mixed feelings about what happened.

“If it was my child I’d be scared to death but …I think the gorilla was trying to protect the child,” Tennant said, referring to cell phone video of the incident.

The incident is reminiscent of a similar situation 20 years ago at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. In that case, a three-year-old boy fell into the gorilla enclosure. A female gorilla, Binti Jua, who coincidentally had been hand-raised by humans at the Columbus Zoo, cradled the injured boy and then carried him to the door where emergency teams were waiting.

But Jack Hanna says this situation was different. Hanna says the gorilla’s behavior was unpredictable and could have turned lethal in a slit second. He said a tranquilizer could have made matters worse.

“He’s sitting out there with this thing that plopped in the moat and all of a sudden people up here viewing are screaming,” Hanna said “When a gorilla is upset, like a Silverback, you wouldn’t want to witness what I’ve witnessed in the wild.

“This animal is capable of squishing a coconut like it’s a marshmallow. The big Silverbacks – it’s unbelievable the power they have,” said Hannah.

Columbus Zoo visitor Jeff Howard says he feels very safe at the zoo, but adds that his two year old son, Ethan, likes to run.

“He’s very active so we have to keep a close eye on him but we try our best to do that anyway to make sure he’s not getting into anything he’s not supposed to and here at the zoo they do a really good job of keeping things separated so they can’t get in there,” Howard said.

Visitors can have an amazing, up-close experience with the 17 gorillas at the Columbus Zoo. Hanna says safety and security is the top priority, but he adds that, like anywhere, there are no absolute guarantees.

“Where do you take the limits of a zoological park? Where do you take the limits of a racetrack? Where do you take the limits anywhere,” Hanna asked.

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