‘It’s a big loss:’ Cincinnati Zoo director comments on gorilla’s death

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CINCINNATI-- Employees at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens are mourning the loss of a critically-endangered gorilla.

A 4-year-old boy climbed over a barrier, through bushes and fell 15 feet into a gorilla enclosure on Saturday. A 450-pound male gorilla, named Harambe, became agitated by the child splashing in the moat and the screaming from onlookers, zoo director Thane Maynard said.

Harambe grabbed the boy and dragged him, banging the child's head against the ground.

"This was not a gentle thing. He was at risk," Maynard told reporters on Monday. The zoo's dangerous animal response team shot Harambe once, killing him.

Maynard said while it may be easy to play Monday-morning quarterback, he stands by their decision to kill the animal. According to the Maynard, the dangerous animal response team is certified by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office. They regularly practice at the range and run drills.

"The safety of that child is paramount," Maynard said. Zoo officials have not been in contact with the boy's family. "I think they know we saved that little boy's life.

The zoo director said the facility is inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. He said the barriers around the gorilla exhibit exceed recommendations.

“You can lock your car, you can lock your house, but if someone really wants to, they can get in,” Maynard said. He said the zoo is not negligent and there will not be any charges. "Do you know any 4-year-olds? They can climb over anything."

Maynard said the zoo is accepting responsibility for this tragic loos, but he is not pointing fingers. He added parents need to keep their families safe, "whether they are at a zoo or at a shopping mall."

The zoo held a meeting Monday morning, where keepers and volunteers shared memories of the 17-year-old gorilla, known by "Handsome Harambe."

“We lost an extremely magnificent animal that was an important part of our program," Maynard said. The gorilla's sperm was collected for conservation purposes.

The zoo has received an outpouring of support from gorilla experts around the globe, including famous primatologist Jane Goodall.

The gorilla exhibit could be back open next weekend.


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