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Cincinnati Zoo Is Defending Its Decision To Kill A Gorilla After A Boy Fell Into An Exhibit

“We had a very, very difficult situation and we made a very difficult call in handling it,” zoo director Thane Maynard said.

Posted on May 30, 2016, at 4:39 p.m. ET

The director of the Cincinnati Zoo on Monday defended the decision to fatally shoot a male gorilla after a boy fell into an exhibit and the animal began picking him up and dragging him around.

Cincinnati Zoo

On Saturday afternoon, a 3-year-old boy fell 10 feet into the zoo’s gorilla exhibit.

Two female gorillas in the enclosure were immediately recalled, but the male, named Harambe, managed to make his way toward the boy and began picking him up and dragging him around, according to a Cincinnati Zoo statement.

To save the boy, the zoo's Dangerous Animal Response Team shot Harambe dead.

However, many people have criticized the zoo's decision to kill the animal, rather than tranquilize it.

Speaking to reporters Monday, zoo director Thane Maynard said staff had no choice but to kill the animal in order to save the boy.

“We’re the ones who took this loss and we made a very difficult call in handling it," he said.

Maynard described Harambe as “clearly agitated, clearly disoriented."

"The idea of waiting to shoot it with a hypodermic would not have been a good idea,” he said, adding that even an anesthetic would have yielded a delayed response.

“The risk was due to the power of that animal,” he said of the 420-pound gorilla.

The zoo and the boy’s parents have faced criticism from people on social media, who are using #JusticeForHarambe to protest the decision to kill the ape — and question how the parents lost track of their child.

Don't take your kids to the zoo if you are unable to keep an eye on them at all times. Simple. #JusticeForHarambe

Stop blaming the parents. Zoo was negligent. Shouldn't have been this easy for a 4-year-old to "jump the fence." #JusticeForHarambe

Disgusting how this endangered and majestic animal had to die due to the negligence of a parent #JusticeForHarambe

Seriously though, was it really necessary to kill Harambe? surely there were less cruel ways to get the kid away. #JusticeForHarambe

#justiceforharambe Looks like the gorilla was protecting the child from all the yelling and excitement, did he really need to be shot?

In the zoo’s 143-year history, there had never before been a situation in which zoo staff had to kill an animal, Maynard said. There had been an incident, however, in which a keeper lost an arm to a polar bear.

There is no formal memorial service scheduled for Harambe, whose body is still at the zoo, but Maynard said that staff had come together on Monday “to share memories and talk about it, and cry a little bit.”

Harambe’s sperm has also been preserved, which means his death is not also the end of his genetic line. Maynard said that the gorilla and his lineage are part of an ongoing breeding program for the endangered species.

Ron Magill, communications director for Zoo Miami, said that he would have made the same call to kill the animal.

"I don't think that gorilla had any intention of hurting that child but the bottom line is he was frightened, he was agitated, his strength is unbelievable,” he told CNN.

“You can see the way he whipped that child through the water like a rag doll. Just the whipping, the child could whip his head against the concrete. It could have been over in a second."


The boy's age has been changed from 4-years-old to 3-years-old based on new information from the Cincinnati Police Department.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.