Cincinnati Zoo Endangered Silverback Gorilla Shot And Killed After 4-year-old Toddler Falls Into Enclosure

The Cincinnati Zoo was the scene of a horrific incident early Saturday evening after a 400-pound gorilla was shot and killed because a 4-year-old boy had managed to climb into its enclosure and employees feared the child would be harmed by the primate.

Officials are reporting that the unidentified toddler somehow crawled through the barrier surrounding the enclosure and fell about 12 feet into the gorilla cage at about 4 p.m. Saturday evening. Cincinnati Zoo director Thayne Maynard confirmed the tale in a press conference and it was also told that once the male gorilla, a hulking 17-year-old named Harambe, spotted he toddler he grabbed him and proceeded to carry him around in his cage.

“It seemed very much by our professional team… to be a life-threatening situation. The threat from the gorilla was neutralized by a Cincinnati Zoo employee with one shot from a long rifle.”

According to New York Daily News Cincinnati Fire Department Chief Marc Monahan also provided a statement to the press about what first responders witnessed when they initially arrived at the scene. Monahan stated that at the time it was not so much that the gorilla was carrying the 4-year-old boy as much as “violently dragging and throwing” the toddler around. Fire officials reported that when the endangered primate was shot and killed the boy had been between his legs. There has been no information released about who exactly the boy was attending the zoo with and social media is awash with persons stating that the parents’ neglect killed the gorilla.

Though technically the gorilla was not attacking the child and seemed to be treating him like a plaything his strength and size is what proved to be the real danger. Maynard acknowledged the fact but stated that given the situation and explained that a tranquilizer gun was not used as it would apparently have taken several minutes to take effect. Maynard also said this is the first time the Cincinnati Zoo’s response team have had to kill an animal due to a life-threatening emergency.

“The zoo’s in the business of taking care of endangered animals, and we don’t want to be in the situation in which they have to be killed. But all sorts of things could happen in a situation like that… The decision was not made lightly. Lowland gorillas are very endangered animals. There aren’t many in captivity. But it has the proper ending… The right choice was made.”

The encounter between the child and the 400 pound gorilla, from the moment the boy fell into the enclosure until Harambe was shot and killed by the zoo’s dangerous animal response team, lasted a little over ten minutes; the toddler remained conscious for the entire horrific ordeal. Once the gorilla was shot officials were able to retrieve the 4-year-old boy from the gorilla enclosure and child was retrieved and brought him to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in serious condition but with non-life threatening injuries.


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There were originally three gorillas in the enclosure when the toddler fell in and while zoo employees managed to immediately get two of them out of the enclosure Harambe did not respond to the calls but stayed in the yard. Harambe was a male Western lowland silverback gorilla, an endangered species. According to the World Wildlife Fund Western lowland silverback gorillas are actually considered to be critically endangered. Nonetheless, Cincinnati’s WLWT relayed that Maynard maintains that shooting the gorilla was the right thing to do.

“It’s a sad day all around,” Maynard said. “They made a tough choice and they made the right choice, because they saved that little boy’s life. It could have been very bad.”

Though technically the gorilla was not attacking the child and seemed to be treating him like a plaything his strength and size is what proved to be the real danger. Maynard acknowledged the fact but stated that given the situation and explained that a tranquilizer gun was not used as it would apparently have taken several minutes to take effect though many have argued that the ten minutes the child was in the enclosure was more than enough time. Maynard also said this is the first time the Cincinnati Zoo’s response team have had to kill an animal due to a life-threatening emergency.

“The zoo’s in the business of taking care of endangered animals, and we don’t want to be in the situation in which they have to be killed. But all sorts of things could happen in a situation like that… The decision was not made lightly. Lowland gorillas are very endangered animals. There aren’t many in captivity. But it has the proper ending.”

According to the zoo’s website it houses 11 gorillas. The zoo was announced that though the zoo will open for business on Sunday, Gorilla World will be closed indefinitely. In the 38 years since the outdoor gorilla center has been operational this was the very first time that someone had gotten inside.

Friday was Harambe’s 17th Birthday.

[Photo Courtesy of the Cincinnati Zoo]