Backlash Over Killing Of Gorilla Scapegoats Mother Of Tot Who Fell Into Zoo Enclosure

Backlash over the killing of a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo has fanned social media anger against the mother of the tot who slipped into a restricted area where he was in danger of being mauled. At the same time, witnesses of the incident are trying to put things in perspective and calm passions against the mother’s “negligence” or the zoo’s decision that led to the shooting of a rare gorilla.

According to People, social media users are accusing zoo-visitor Michelle Gregg of not paying close enough attention to her 4-year-old boy, whose tumble into the gorilla enclosure resulted in the shooting death of Harambe, the 17-year-old, 450-pound male Western Lowland silverback.

Zookeepers shot and killed Harambe on Sunday, May 29, after Gregg’s son slipped into its enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, triggering backlash over the killing of a rare gorilla. And if they had to do it again, they would respond the same way, Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard said Monday.

Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard explains why gorilla had to be killed [Photo by AP Pool]

CNN reports that Maynard stands by the decision to take down Harambe to save the child, notwithstanding the backlash over the killing. The boy went through an elaborate process of ducking under a rail, slipping through wires and flopping over a moat wall to get into the enclosure, findings show. A witness shot footage of the gorilla dragging the tot through the water, seemingly spurred on by screams from onlookers.

Part of the backlash is over a zookeeper shooting Harambe with a rifle rather than with a tranquilizer gun. Widespread outrage over the killing of the 450-pound gorilla was expressed by Internet users who also blamed the child’s parents for failing to look after him properly.

In a news conference, Maynard characterized the backlash as second-guessing by those who “don’t understand silverback gorillas.” He said the clamor over the killing of the gorilla is coming from people who were not there when it was crucial to make such a decision.

“That child’s life was in danger. People who question that don’t understand you can’t take a risk with a silverback gorilla — this is a dangerous animal. Looking back, we’d make the same decision. The child is safe. We made a difficult call.”

Mourners at Cincinnati Zoo
Mourners pay their respects to Harambe the silverback [Photo by AP Pool]

Prior to the backlash, witness Kimberley Ann Perkins O’Connor, who documented part of the occurrence on her phone, told CNN she overheard the boy speaking to his mother of going over to the water. And then he was in, triggering events that resulted in the killing of the gorilla.

Taken to Children’s Hospital for minor injuries, the unnamed boy was released on Saturday evening as the backlash grew. A public relations firm facing ill-will over the killing of the gorilla, thanked the zoo on behalf of the Gregg family.

“We are so thankful to the Lord that our child is safe. He is home and doing just fine. We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff. We know that this was a very difficult decision for them, and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla. We hope that you will respect our privacy at this time.”

According to ABC News, Harambe was shot dead as a safety measure for the little boy in a dangerous enclosure of the Cincinnati Zoo. Backlash over the killing argues that the zoo’s drastic handling of the gorilla was unnecessary, but others agree with experts saying it was the right thing to do to save the boy.

In a written statement acquired by NBC News, Cincinnati Fire Chief Marc Monahan said first responders “witnessed a gorilla who was violently dragging and throwing the child.” He said the gorilla was “neutralized” by a Cincinnati Zoo employee with one shot from a long rifle, sparking the backlash from an online community seething over the “unnecessary” killing of the gorilla.

In a Facebook post, eyewitness Deirdre Lykins said she was taking a picture of a female gorilla, when her eldest son yelled, “What is he doing? ” and she saw a small boy had “flopped” over the railing and was crawling fast over about three feet of ground through the bushes before she or her husband could grab him, to prevent him from going over. The backlash over subsequent events that led to the killing of the gorilla happened quickly. Lykins had this to say regarding the gorilla’s behavior.

“It wasn’t until the gorilla became agitated because of the nosey, dramatic, helpless crowd; that the gorilla violently ran with the child! And it was very violent; although I think the gorilla was still trying to protect, we’re taking a 400 lb gorilla throwing a 40 lb toddler around! It was horrific! The zoo responded very quickly, clearing the area and attempting to save both the child and the gorilla! The right choice was made.”

Harambe, who celebrated his 17th birthday on May 27, was raised at the Gladys Porter Zoo from birth by Jerry Stones. In the wake of the backlash over the killing, Stones did not second guess the Cincinnati Zoo’s decision to shoot Harambe. According to New York Daily News, the zookeeper instead focused on his memories of the gorilla.

“He was a special guy in my life. Harambe was my heart. It’s like losing a member of the family. I raised him from a baby, he was a sweet cute little guy. He grew up to be a pretty, beautiful male. He was very intelligent. Very, very intelligent. His mind was going constantly. He was just such a sharp character.”

While Cincinnati Police have not charged Michelle Gregg, and the zoo deliberates on what to do next, the backlash continues over the killing of a rare gorilla.

[Image via Shutterstock]