There is a lot of second-guessing going on throughout the country and around the world over the shooting death of the 400-pound silverback gorilla known as Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo Saturday after a 4-year-old boy wandered into the Gorilla World enclosure. Today (Monday), the zoo’s director defended decisions by zoo workers and firefighters to rescue the child. The little boy has been released from the hospital.
According to news reports, the Cincinnati Fire Department had personnel at Gorilla World shortly after the incident occurred because they were already handling a response for a sick person at the zoo.
The fire department release said the boy was in between the gorilla’s legs at the time of the shot.
Maynard said the Dangerous Animal Response Team followed procedures, which they practice in drills. He said in the 38-year history of the zoo’s gorilla exhibit that they’ve never had anyone get into the enclosure.
After the gorilla was shot, zoo employees unlocked the gate and two firefighters quickly retrieved the child, according to the fire department.
There were already fire department personnel at the zoo because of a sick person, and they responded immediately to the pen, District Fire Chief Marc Monahan said. When they got to the gorilla pen they saw Harambe violently dragging and throwing the child, he said.
“They made a tough choice and they made the right choice because they saved that little boy’s life,” (zoo director Thane) Maynard said. “It could have been very bad.”
Maynard said the gorilla didn’t appear to be attacking the child, but he said it was “an extremely strong” animal in an agitated situation. He said tranquilizing the gorilla wouldn’t have knocked it out immediately, leaving the boy in danger.
A Cincinnati Fire Department report stated the gorilla was “violently dragging and throwing the child” when they were called, and that the boy was between the gorilla’s legs when the endangered animal was shot, WLWT-TV reported.
The boy was sitting upright and was calm when rescuers pulled him from the enclosure, according to WCPO. The child — whose age originally was reported as 3 — was taken to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. His injuries were described as serious but not life-threatening, police said.
In a press conference Monday, zoo director Thane Maynard cautioned against anyone watching a widely viewed viral cell phone video and deciding they understand the situation.
He said zoo staff and first responders on the scene were “unanimous” in agreeing at the time that the boy was in imminent danger, being dragged about, his head bouncing against concrete.
“They are Monday morning quarterbacks or second-guessers who don’t understand that you don’t take risks with a Silverback gorilla,” Maynard said of critics. “They’re tough — bigger than a man and six times stronger than that.
The male gorilla, however, did not respond to entreaties to leave the enclosure, as two female gorillas there did.
Those who were at the zoo monitoring the situation were “unanimous” in agreeing that the child was in danger, Maynard said of staff and firefighters.