Officials said they had no choice but to shoot and kill a silverback gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo over the weekend after a pre-schooler tumbled into the animal’s exhibit and was in “imminent danger.”
The 4-year-old boy managed to climb beyond a fence, through some bushes and then fall 15-feet into the exhibit’s moat, which is about a foot deep. That’s where he came face to face with Harambe, a 17-year-old, 450-pound, western lowland gorilla.
The city’s fire department said the gorilla “was violently dragging and throwing the child” when it was called.
Witness Kim O’Connor captured the terrifying moments on video, which was first broadcast on WLWT. She told the television station she heard the boy saying he wanted to jump into the gorilla’s habitat, and that his mother was busy taking care of several other small kids at the time.
In the video, you can hear the boy’s mother yelling to him. The child also screaming. But the gorilla appears at once to be dragging the boy like a doll and trying to protect him.
Officials said the child was in the enclosure for 10 to 15 minutes before the gorilla was shot. The boy still between his legs.
“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,” zoo director Thane Maynard, said in a statement. “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.”
The youngster was taken to hospital. The family, which has been the target of protests for not keeping a closer eye on the boy, issued this statement Sunday.
“We are so thankful to the Lord that our child is safe,” the family told WLWT. “He is home and doing just fine.”
The family also thanked the zoo for its quick action to save the boy.
“We know that this was a very difficult decision for them, and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla.”
The Zoo’s Dangerous Animal Response Team, which is made of up zookeepers, veterinarians, security officials, maintenance staff and executives, made the call to shoot the gorilla.
“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,” Maynard added. “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.”
The barrier has been in place since 1978, has never been breached and the exhibit inspected regularly by federal officials and the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. The zoo will look at what happened and add whatever are improvements are needed.
Western lowland gorillas are endangered species. Harambe arrived at the zoo in 2014 from the Gladys Porter Zoo in Texas.
The Cincinnati Zoo posted this video of Harmabe quietly eating celery just five months ago.