Something of a tragedy here at the Cincinnati Zoo this weekend as Harambe, one of the gorillas at the zoo's primate enclosure was shot and killed by keepers who were trying to protect a 4-year-old boy who had climbed into the habitat.
The encounter at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden occurred Saturday afternoon when the boy crawled through a barrier and fell into a moat at the facility’s outdoor gorilla center, zoo director Thane Maynard told reporters.
The boy wasn’t seriously hurt in the fall, Maynard said at a news conference, but after he dropped into the enclosure, the gorilla, a 17-year-old male named Harambe, “went down and got him.” The animal grabbed and dragged the child, Maynard said, and that’s why officials determined that the boy’s life was in danger.
“It seemed very much by our professional team, our dangerous-animal response team, to be a life-threatening situation,” Maynard said. “And so the choice was made to put down, or shoot, Harambe. And so he’s gone.”
The 4-year-old boy was taken to a children’s hospital, according to a news release from the zoo. His name was not released.
“It’s a sad day all the way around,” Maynard said. “The right choice was made; it was a difficult choice. We have protocols and procedures, we do drills with our dangerous-animal response team. But we’ve never had a situation like this at the Cincinnati Zoo, where a dangerous animal needed to be dispatched in an emergency situation.”
Zoo employees opted to put down the animal instead of using tranquilizers because in “agitated” situations, it can take time for the drugs to take effect, Maynard said. Harambe also would have had a “dramatic response” to a tranquilizer’s effect, he said.
Maynard praised the workers tasked with handling the incident, saying they had a “tough choice.”
“Because they saved that little boy’s life,” he said. “It could have been very bad.”
The child squeezed into an area where he shouldn't have, getting away from his busy mother, and climbed the wall outside the Gorilla World area. He then fell into the moat surrounding the enclosure, and Harambe dragged the boy out of the water.
That was enough for the keepers to make the call to put the gorilla down.
There's going to be a lot of second guessing here, about if it was the right choice, if the zoo could have done more to protect the enclosure, if the child's mother could have stopped the boy, if the zoo should have had a silverback in the first place.
I don't know the honest answers to these questions, but they need to be answered, I think.