It was a joyful Saturday outing turned sour at Cincinnati’s zoo as a 4-year-old boy accidentally fell into a gorilla enclosure – and the zoo response team killed the 17-year-old gorilla that grabbed and dragged the boy.
The incident happened at about 4 p.m. at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, where police and emergency crews responded quickly and took the child to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center for treating notable yet non-life threatening injuries.
Harambe, a western lowland gorilla, dragged the boy inside the exhibit moat while two female gorillas were also in their enclosure. About 10 minutes passed by when the zoo’s response team decided that it was a “life-threatening” situation for the boy to stay with the 400-pound creature.
The gorilla was shot while the boy was in between his legs, stated a fire department news release.
“The choice was made to put down, or hot, Harambe, so he’s gone,” said zoo president Thane Maynard, dubbing it a “tough choice” to dispatch the animal in the “emergency situation.”
He explained that the gorilla did not seem to attack the child, but was “extremely strong” and in an agitated situation. Tranquilized, which would not immediately knock the animal out, would not keep the boy out of danger, he added.
Authorities, including hospital officials, will not release any information on the child, who is believed to have crawled through a railing barrier and then fell 10 to 12 feet into the moat.
On social media, a Facebook page titled “Justice for Harambe” was created and collected more than 100 likes in less than two hours. Online, the act has been called “murder,” urging for charged against responsible parties.
Cincinnati police spokesperson Lt. Steve Saunders, however, said no charged will be filed against the child’s parents, who received criticism from some social media users for not watching the boy more closely.
Western lowland gorillas like Harambe are among four subspecies, considered critically endangered at present. Their population is hard to estimate because of the dense and far-flung rain forests they live in, said the World Wildlife Foundation.
The zoo has had successful captive breeding programs in recent years, particularly in its aim to save the endangered Sumatran rhino.
The zoo reopens on May 29, but will keep Gorilla World closed until announced otherwise.
Photo: Kev Chapman | Flickr