Anger, grief follow killing of zoo gorilla after boy fell into enclosure

A child touches the head of a gorilla statue where flowers have been placed outside the Gorilla World exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Sunday, May 29, 2016, in Cincinnati. On Saturday, a special zoo response team shot and killed Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla, that grabbed and dragged a 4-year-old boy who fell into the gorilla exhibit moat. Authorities said the boy is expected to recover. He was taken to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

CINCINNATI, Ohio. (WFLA/AP) — People are turning to social media to express their anger and sadness over the death of a 17-year-old gorilla who was shot and killed by the Cincinnati Zoo’s animal response team after a 4-year-old boy fell into a shallow moat in the gorilla’s enclosure on Saturday.

Animal rights activists are planning a Memorial Day vigil for the gorilla. There has been a strong outpouring on social media of people upset the gorilla was killed Saturday. A Facebook page called “Justice for Harambe” created Saturday night has drawn wide attention.

Related: Ohio zoo closes gorilla exhibit for now after boy falls in

Vigil planned at Cincinnati Zoo in tribute to slain gorilla

Animal rights activists plan a Memorial Day vigil for the gorilla killed at the Cincinnati Zoo after a 4-year-old boy slipped into an exhibit and a special zoo response team concluded his life was in danger.

Anthony Seta calls the 17-year-old endangered lowland gorilla’s death “a senseless tragedy” and says the Monday afternoon gathering is meant as a memorial to Harambe.

Seta says Monday’s memorial is meant as a tribute, not to point fingers at the zoo or the boy’s parents. The boy hasn’t been identified and his family says he is doing fine at home.

Panicked zoo visitors watched helplessly and shouted, “Stay calm!” while one woman yelled, “Mommy loves you!” as the 400-pound-plus gorilla loomed over the boy.

The boy sat still in the water, looking up at the gorilla as the animal touched the child’s hand and back. At one point, it looked as though the gorilla helped the youngster stand up.

Two witnesses said they thought the gorilla was trying to protect the boy at first before getting spooked by the screams of onlookers. The animal then picked the child up out of the moat and dragged him to another spot inside the exhibit, zoo officials said.

Fearing for the boy’s life, the zoo’s dangerous-animal response team shot and killed the 17-year-old ape, named Harambe.

The child, whose name was not released, was released from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center on Saturday night, hours after the fall.

His family said in a statement Sunday that the boy was home and doing fine.

“We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff. We know that this was a very difficult decision for them, and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla,” the family said.

Zoo Director Thane Maynard said the gorilla didn’t appear to be attacking the child but was “an extremely strong” animal in an agitated situation. He said tranquilizing the gorilla wouldn’t have knocked it out immediately, leaving the boy in danger.

“They made a tough choice and they made the right choice because they saved that little boy’s life,” Maynard said.

Zoo officials said the 4-year-old climbed through a barrier at the Gorilla World exhibit and dropped 15 feet into the moat Saturday afternoon. He was in there for about 10 minutes. Two female gorillas also were in the enclosure.

The two females complied with calls from zoo staff to leave the exhibit, but Harambe stayed, Maynard said.

Witness Kim O’Connor said she heard the boy say he wanted to get in the water with the gorillas. She said the boy’s mother was with several other young children.

“The mother’s like, ‘No, you’re not. No, you’re not,’” O’Connor told WLWT-TV.

O’Connor shared video she and her family recorded of the boy and Harambe. The two appear in a corner of the exhibit while visitors yell, “Somebody call the zoo!” and “Mommy’s right here!” The station did not air portions of the video showing the gorilla dragging the boy.

Another woman said that just before the boy fell, she saw him in bushes beyond a fence around the exhibit.

“I tried to grab for him. I started yelling at him to come back,” Brittany Nicely told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “Everybody started screaming and going crazy. It happened so fast.”

Zoo staff cleared the area and visitors heard gunfire a few minutes later. Firefighters then rushed into the enclosure and picked up the boy.

Lt. Steve Saunders, a Cincinnati police spokesman, said there are no plans to charge the parents.

Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the zoo should have had a second barrier around the exhibit.

“Even under the ‘best’ circumstances, captivity is never acceptable for gorillas or other primates, and in cases like this, it’s even deadly,” PETA said.

The exhibit opened nearly 40 years ago, and this was the first breach, the zoo said.

Maynard called the killing a tragic death of a critically endangered species and a huge loss for the zoo and the gorilla population worldwide. The gorilla came to Cincinnati in 2015 from the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas.

Visitors left flowers at a gorilla statue Sunday. Gorilla World remained closed, but the rest of the zoo was open.

One father said he was shocked that the boy was able to get past the fence and bushes that surround the exhibit. He expects the zoo will take a close at it.

“They probably thought the moat and the fence was good enough,” said Alex Salcedo.

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like it was if a 4-year-old can get through.”

The Cincinnati Zoo posted the following statement on its Facebook page-

Cincinnati Zoo Devastated by Death of Beloved Gorilla

CINCINNATI (May 29, 2016) –The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden family is in mourning today and trying to process the death of 17-year-old gorilla Harambe. The gorilla was killed yesterday in order to save the life of a child who climbed through a public barrier at Gorilla World and dropped fifteen feet into the exhibit’s moat, which contained a foot of water.

“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.

As of Monday morning, the zoo’s post had received 11,604 comments. Many Facebook users lashed out at the boy’s parents for not keeping a closer watch on the child, others were angry that the gorilla was shot and killed, others defended the zoo and the boy’s parents. Some of the comments are included below.

“If toddlers are so fast and easy to lose track of, maybe they need to be in a stroller or on a harness. I don’t trust my dogs to stay next to me how the hell are you going to trust a toddler especially in a crowd. I don’t care if it was human error or the family is traumatized. They need to be charged with the endangerment and cause of death to an endangered species,” said Allie Chartreuse.

“We could be commenting about Harambe AND a child dead but we are not. Had the gorilla fatally harmed this child they would have had to put the gorilla down. This child’s parent is taking hard hits from people and people need to remember this is 4 year old- children are sometimes impulsive. What a traumatic experience for this child, his family, everyone at the zoo, the gorillas, and our community. There is NO good answer to this situation so my prayers go out to all directly involved. Harambe will be greatly missed by everyone and it’s a horrible action that had to take place,” wroteTammy Gregware-Ratley.

“I have been a long time season pass holder and visit the Cincy and Columbus zoos regularly. Both zoos are amazing and truly love their animals and appreciate their visitors. As parents we need to teach our children that these animals are very beautiful and intelligent but at the same time they are wild animals. As parents teaching our children to respect these animals and admire their beauty is our number one job as visitors to these zoos. I hate that this world is one less gorilla because of an act that should of never happened. Thank you Director Maynard for all that you do…you run an amazing zoo. God bless you and your colleagues during this hard time,” Mark Wilhelm.

“I am so distressed that this beautiful and mighty creature’s life had to be sacrificed. Parents seem very distracted to me these days. They are either on their phones or talking to others when they should be focused. If you have too many children to watch in a public place then you need better judgement and should feel responsible for the life of this gorilla as well as the safety of a 4 yr. old,” said Anne M. Moss.

“As media you are going to say what you want the public to hear to cover your decision . Bottom line this is a tragedy, you could of tranquilized him and waited . This is horrific what you did let alone he was out of his natural habitat , what investigation has incurred with the parents ? Neglect and lack of supervision. I won’t be coming back,” wrote Linda Myers.

“So sorry for your loss. I travel from Michigan to the Cincinnati Zoo on many occasions and find the animals very well cared for and the zoo grounds great. I know it was a very tough to decision to make. I will still support the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and there wonderful efforts to save wildlife. Big hug to all the zoo staff. Thanks from Jerry in Michigan,” wrote Jerry J Sieja.

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