Director: Zoo safe despite shooting of gorilla to save boy

CINCINNATI (AP) — The director of the Cincinnati Zoo says it remains safe for its 1.6 million annual visitors despite a weekend tragedy in which a gorilla was fatally shot to protect a 4-year-old boy who had entered its exhibit.

Thane Maynard, however, said a review is underway to determine any improvements that can make the zoo safer.

The male western lowland gorilla named Harambe was killed Saturday by a special zoo response team that feared for the boy’s safety. Video taken by zoo visitors showed the gorilla at times appeared to be protective of the boy but also violently dragged him through the shallow moat.

Maynard said the decision to kill the gorilla was the right one. He said the gorilla was agitated and disoriented by the commotion during the 10 minutes after the boy fell. He said the gorilla could crush a coconut in one hand and there was no doubt that the boy’s life was in danger.

Jack Hanna, host of “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild,” said the zoo made the right call by shooting the gorilla. Hanna said he saw video of the gorilla jerking the boy through the water and knew what would happen if the animal wasn’t killed.

“I’ll bet my life on this, that child would not be here today,” Hanna told WBNS-TV.

In an interview with Boston television station WFXT, conservationist and television host Jeff Corwin suggested that the boy’s family should shoulder some of the blame, saying “zoos aren’t your baby sitter.”

“I don’t think this happened in seconds or minutes. I think this took time for this kid, this little boy, to find himself in that situation. Ultimately it’s the gorilla that’s paid this price,” he said.

A Cincinnati police spokesman said no charges against the parents were being considered. A spokeswoman for the family said Monday they had no plans to comment.

“I do think there’s a degree of responsibility they have to be held to,” said Kate Villanueva, a mother of two children from Erlanger, Kentucky, who started the “Justice for Harambe” page and attended a Monday vigil for the gorilla outside the Cincinnati Zoo. “You have to be watching your children at all times.”

The Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, where Harambe spent most of his life, said its staff is deeply saddened by the gorilla’s death. Harambe was sent to Cincinnati less than two years ago in hopes he would eventually breed with gorillas there.

Jerry Stones, facilities director at Gladys Porter Zoo raised Harambe since birth and has worked with the gorilla’s family since they first entered the U.S., the Brownsville Herald reported. He spoke Monday about his relationship with Harambe.

“He was a character. . He grew up to be a beautiful, beautiful animal, never aggressive and never mean,” Stones said, according to the newspaper. “He would tease the heck out of people and would do things to irritate you just like some kids.”

Stones said he would take Harambe home with him when the gorilla was a baby and let him sleep on his bed, according to KRGV-TV.

There are critics of the zoo’s decision to kill Harambe. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the zoo should have had better barriers between humans and the gorillas.

Maynard said the atmosphere following the incident is “very emotional.”

“Not everyone shares the same opinion and that’s OK,” he said. “But we all share the love for animals.”

Maynard said the zoo has received messages of support and condolences from around the world, including from other zoo directors and gorilla experts. He said zoo visitors have been leaving flowers at the exhibit and asking how they could support gorilla conservation.


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For earlier stories on the gorilla shooting and some of Sewell’s other recent stories:

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