Police said Tuesday they were investigating the circumstances surrounding a 4-year-old boy entering a gorilla’s exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo and the animal being shot to death to protect the child. A federal investigation is also planned.
A federal inspection less than two months ago found no problems with the zoo’s Gorilla World exhibit, but earlier zoo inspections reported issues including the potential danger to the public from a March incident involving wandering polar bears.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters’ office said Cincinnati police are investigating what transpired with the death of the gorilla named Harambe on Saturday. Afterward, police will talk with prosecutors about whether charges are warranted, the office said.
Police said over the weekend that no charges were planned, but spokeswoman Tiffaney Hardy said Tuesday they are still gathering information on what happened.
Some critics have said the boy’s parents should be charged with child endangering, while others want the zoo held responsible for the death of the 17-year-old western lowland gorilla. The boy was released from a hospital later Saturday, and his family has said he’s “doing just fine” at home.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump weighed in Tuesday, saying the zoo had little choice but to kill the gorilla.
He referred to video showing the animal at times appearing protective of the child, saying it was “so beautiful to watch” and “almost like a mother holding a baby.” But Trump noted that the video also showed the gorilla dragging the boy through a shallow moat.
Trump acknowledged that it was “a very tough call” but said a child was at stake.
Tanya Espinosa, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said Tuesday that it would be looking into the incident for any violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
Zoo director Thane Maynard said the zoo has gotten a lot of support from visitors and animal experts since Saturday.
Federal reports viewed by The Associated Press showed an inspector warned the zoo that the public could have been “at great risk for injury, harm or death” on March 16 when two polar bears went through an open den door into a behind-the-scenes service hallway. At the time, zoo officials said some visitors were moved for safety as the bears were returned to their main holding area. No one was injured.
The federal inspection found that two doors were left open by keepers and there didn’t appear to be “a formalized method” for double-checking locks and doors.
The report said animals can be harmed when they access areas not meant for their use, adding: “Surprising the bears in the keeper area could have resulted in human injury or death.” It also said the public would have been at great risk if the bears had gotten outside.
The report said the zoo’s dangerous-animal response team used tranquilizer darts on the two bears. Maynard said Monday that using tranquilizers on the gorilla likely would have put the boy in greater danger because they don’t take effect immediately.
A routine inspection April 4-7 that included the gorilla area didn’t find any violations, another report said.
Maynard said the zoo remains safe for its 1.6 million annual visitors, but a review is underway to determine any improvements that can be made.
The executive director of a Cincinnati-based animal rights organization is calling on the USDA to fine the zoo.
“The (zoo’s) barrier obviously isn’t sufficient to keep the public out,” said Michael Budkie of Stop Animal Exploitation NOW. “Otherwise, Harambe wouldn’t be dead.”
Jack Hanna, host of “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild,” said the zoo made the right call by shooting the gorilla, telling WBNS-TV: “I’ll bet my life on this, that child would not be here today.”
In an interview with Boston television station WFXT, conservationist and television host Jeff Corwin suggested that the boy’s family should shoulder some of the blame, saying “zoos aren’t your baby sitter.”
“I don’t think this happened in seconds or minutes. I think this took time for this kid, this little boy, to find himself in that situation. Ultimately it’s the gorilla that’s paid this price,” he said.
The family has declined to comment further.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Anthony Alexander says
Should have shot the parents. WHO would allow a child to wander off and don’t give me the BS story about raising children. Today the children run the parents, no discipline, etc…..99% people out there are dumb MFers
Amen to that!
Joy Gibson says
I do believe that the parents are at fault due to the fact that a 3 or 4 yr old is very inquisitive and tend to wander off …they should have a harness on him in the kind of crowds seen at zoos! Someone was not paying attention to the child! Now we are mourning a great loss in this zoo! A word to the wise. ..use whatever you need to to keep your children close or contained by strollers or harness so this never happens again!
Parents raised children responsibly, successfully, for thousands of years without harnessing them like some kind of pet. Now we fence them in rooms, strap them in cars, leash them on outings–and they don’t know how to behave “off leash.” They’ve been externally restrained for so much of their young lives they don’t develop any kind of internal restraint or responsibility. They get the mentality that “if nothing’s physically preventing me from doing it, it must be okay.” And they grow up into spoiled narcissists because they’ve never learned that not all boundaries are physical obstructions.
Justin W says
This needs to be investigated. If one child figured out how to get into the gorilla pen others are likely to make the same discovery.
I have two concerns with the parents. The parents should have been watching their children. Perhaps we should also consider whether the parents played a role in the child getting into the pen. Perhaps they had a financial motive for their child coming in contact with the gorilla.
Ole Prof says
Anthony, PattieA, Joy, Justin:
Were you there? Did you watch a full video replay showing everything? Do you have kids or know anything about them? Or you among the usual group of the ignorant and idiots who spout off emotional (FEELING) and worthless opinions without knowing any of the facts.
Please spare us intelligent people who will wait for the facts (probably not obtainable now that political grand standers running in elections are involved!
I have raised children. I was not there when this happened. But, I will say that parents are responsible for their children’s safety. Children can move fast, but it would have taken a little time for this child to figure out how to get into the gorilla’s area, obviously he was not being watched properly. A four year old has the capacity to understand where he can and cannot go. My 4 year old knew his address, his phone number and the “real” names of his parents. He also knew what was off limits to him. The parents need to explain boundaries to children. My observation is that most parents don’t spend enough time with their children to teach them the things that they need to know to keep themselves as safe as possible. The parents shoulder the responsibility for Harambe’s death. I have watched the video and I do believe he was trying to protect the child. I also don’t know how anyone would have gotten the child away from Harambe without causing further injury to someone. I am saddened by Harambe’s death. Rest in peace, Gentle Giant.
Jean Craig says
I raised 4 of my on and kept my grandchildren when there were little a lot. took all of them many places, san diego zoo and many other places. But I held the hands of the ones who were little very tightly, They were my responsibility not the zoo keeper’s job. This parents will probably try to get rich over this by suing zoo, city anyone they can. Bet they already have a lawyer. what they need is have to pay for the amimal and pay the zoo keeper for baby sitting. The child said ” I am going to go in the water” according to report in paper, that should have done it right there unless parents wanted this to happen so they can get money.