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Backlash in US over killing a gorilla in zoo

The response team shot and killed a 17-year-old gorilla that grabbed and dragged a 4-year-old boy who fell into a moat

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A public backlash intensified Monday after zookeepers killed a critically endangered gorilla holding a young boy who had fallen into its enclosure in a horrifying incident captured on video.

Earlier, the Cincinnati Zoo has temporarily closed its gorilla exhibit after a special zoo response team shot and killed a 17-year-old gorilla that grabbed and dragged a 4-year-old boy who fell into a moat.

Zoo officials said the boy fell after he climbed through a public barrier at the Gorilla World exhibit Saturday afternoon. He was picked up out of the moat and dragged by the gorilla for about 10 minutes.

By Monday afternoon, at least 13 petitions had been created on the change.org website demanding justice for the slain animal.
Still, angry animal lovers expressed outrage that the child had slipped into the enclosure.

Authorities said the child, who has not been identified, fell 10 to 12 feet. He was taken to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center where he is expected to recover. Hospital officials said they couldn’t release any information on him.

Zoo Director Thane Maynard said the zoo’s dangerous animal response team decided the boy was in “a life-threatening situation” and that they needed to put down the 400-pound-plus male gorilla named Harambe.

“They made a tough choice and they made the right choice because they saved that little boy’s life,” Maynard said. “It could have been very bad.”

But he mourned the loss of the gorilla, which came to Cincinnati in 2015 from the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas.

“We are all devastated that this tragic accident resulted in the death of a critically endangered gorilla,” he said in a news release. “This is a huge loss for the zoo family and the gorilla population worldwide.”

Witness Kim O’Connor shared video she and her family recorded with WLWT-TV of the boy and Harambe. The two appear in a corner of the exhibit while a voice yells “Somebody call the zoo!” and “Mommy’s right here.” Later, the two are shown in the moat. At one point, Harambe touches the boy’s back and arms. A woman’s voice is heard saying “Be calm, be calm.”

The station reports more graphic parts of the video not shown include Harambe dragging the boy.
Two female gorillas also were in the enclosure when the boy fell in but zoo officials said only the male remained with the child.

Maynard said the gorilla didn’t appear to be attacking the child, but he said it 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.

It was the first time that the team had killed a zoo animal in such an emergency situation, Maynard said. He called it “a very sad day” at the zoo.

The area around the gorilla exhibit was closed off Saturday afternoon as zoo visitors reported hearing screaming.

Maynard said the zoo believes the exhibit remains safe.

The zoo will be open on Sunday but officials said the gorilla exhibit has been closed until further notice.

The zoo prides itself for its work in protecting endangered species, and has been part of successful captive breeding efforts in recent years in the effort to save the endangered Sumatran rhino.

Others called for a Harambe memorial to be built, and for people to boycott the zoo.

While generally acknowledging that zookeepers had few options, critics slammed the zoo and the child's parents.

Zoo officials said they were heartbroken over the loss of Harambe, but had to make a rapid choice on how to rescue the boy. "A child's life was in danger and a quick decision had to be made," Zoo Director Thane Maynard said in a statement.

"Tranquilizing the 450-pound gorilla was not an option. Tranquilizers do not take effect for several minutes and the child was in imminent danger."

The boy's name was not released, but his family issued a statement to US media offering their "heartfelt thanks" to the zoo.

"We know that this was a very difficult decision for them, and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla," the statement said. The boy's mother "did not give proper supervision. As a result her child fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo resulting in the innocent living creature being euthanized," one petitioner alleges.