Primate Rescue Center

Zoo Stands by Decision to Kill Gorilla Amid Activists’ Outcry

Erika Fleury May 31, 2016

Animal behaviorists and advocates say it wasn’t clear if a western lowland gorilla was poised to harm a 4-year-old boy who entered his exhibit before the gorilla was shot dead by Cincinnati Zoo staff, a decision the zoo defended yesterday amid a vigil and social media outcry.

“If his intention was to immediately harm this child, he would have,” Erika Fleury of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance said of Harambe the gorilla. “He was clearly confused, and I think potentially even scared. There were humans screaming, you can hear it in the video. Everyone wishes they knew what his intentions were. It’s very hard to know and to predict that sort of thing.”

Harambe the gorilla, image courtesy Cincinnati Zoo / Boston Herald

Terri Bright, director of Behavior Services at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, called the decision to shoot the gorilla “just so sad and tragic.”

“Certainly a gorilla is large and strong, and I don’t think that we can measure intent by watching a video on the Internet,” Bright said. “Intent is measured over time.”

In a press conference yesterday, the zoo’s director, Thane Maynard, defended killing the 420-pound gorilla, which he said was agitated and disoriented by the commotion during the 10 minutes after the boy fell. He said the 17-year-old gorilla could crush a coconut in one hand and there was no doubt that the boy’s life was in danger.

“We stand by our decision,” Maynard said.

Maynard said an investigation indicates the boy climbed over a 3-foot-tall railing, then walked through an area of bushes about 4-feet deep before plunging some 15 feet into the moat. The boy was treated at a hospital and released that same day.

Helen Rayshick, executive director of the Massachusetts Animal Rights Coalition, said the organization “believes that this horrible incident was the fault of the zoo and that people should be outraged by the killing of an endangered species because of faulty containment facilities.”

“This further strengthens our position that zoos are outdated and inhumane and we urge families to seek entertainment that does not exploit animals and put their children in danger,” she said

Zoo critics took to social media to voice their outrage. A Facebook page called “Justice for Harambe” was created along with online petitions and another page calling for a June 5 protest at the zoo. Many criticized the boy’s parents and said they should be held accountable for the gorilla’s death. Cincinnati Police said no charges were being considered.

- Boston Herald

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