The Cincinnati Zoo reopened to the public on Tuesday, 10 days after handlers killed a silverback gorilla named Harambe when a 3-year-old toddler fell into its enclosure. The exhibit will have a new barrier that will make it more difficult for the public to get into the habitat, CNN News reports.
Over 43 million people have safely enjoyed the Cincinnati Zoo Gorilla World exhibit without incident in the 38 years it has been open. In May, a young boy climbed over the barrier, made his way through more than five feet of bushes, and dropped into the moat. As a result, zoo officials are taking extra precautions to prevent such accidents from reoccurring — especially since the Cincinnati Zoo received severe backlash for killing Harambe.
The Cincinnati Zoo has made modifications to the public barrier before reopening the exhibit. The new barrier is 42 inches high with solid wood beams at the top and bottom with knotted rope netting. The previous barrier passed multiple inspections from the Associations of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and adhered to safety guidelines. However, the new barrier is an added measure of safety.
“In the case of this incident, which involved a child and a critically endangered animal, our collective goal is to take steps to assure it doesn’t happen again,” said Kris Vehrs, Interim President and CEO of AZA. “Incidents like this are very rare, and the AZA Accreditation Commission will continue working with our members so that AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums remain safe for the 183 million guests who visit each year.”
The reopening comes a day after prosecutors announced they would not file charges against the toddler’s mother in the May 28 incident. After the child breached the habitat, Harambe pulled him across the moat through the water. Because zoo officials feared the child’s life may be in danger, the decision was made to shoot the gorilla.
“Our exhibit goes above and beyond standard safety requirements, but in light of what happened, we have modified the outer public barrier to make entry even more difficult,” said Thane Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo, in a statement.
Jacob and Krista Ward went to the zoo on Tuesday with their three children. Krista Ward told CNN News, “The zoo should have probably taken better precautions since it’s a place kids go.”
Krista added that what happened at the zoo is “one of those things you never imagined could happen.”
The zoo has defended its decision to shoot Harambe as necessary to protect the child, but continues to face criticism. Critics are saying the zoo officials did not do enough to prevent the loss of the gorilla. Others blame the child’s mother for failing to supervise him adequately. An online petition seeking charges against the parents received more than 500,000 signatures.
A witness to the incident recalls the boy telling his mother he was going into the moat.
“The little boy himself had already been talking about wanting to go in, go in, get in the water and his mother is like, ‘No you’re not, no you’re not,’ ” said Kimberley Ann Perkins O’Connor.
When the toddler’s mother became distracted with her other children, the little boy went into the moat. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters said on Monday that there is no evidence the child’s mother acted inappropriately in the situation.
“She had three other kids with her and turned her back… And if anyone doesn’t believe a 3-year-old can scamper off very quickly, they’ve never had kids.”
Deters said the zoo lost a “beautiful animal” that was beloved “but it’s still an animal. It does not equate human life.”
Both the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the AZA have launched investigations into the Harambe incident. The USDA, which inspects the zoo annually, will look into whether the facility was in compliance with federal laws that monitor the treatment of animals in research and exhibition.
[Photo by AP Images]