Anger mounts over shooting of gorilla in Cincinnati Zoo
Visitors to Cincinnati Zoo have blamed the parents of a boy who fell into the gorilla enclosure for forcing staff to shoot and kill the rare 400-lb animals.
As zoo officials explained that they had no alternative but to take the reluctant decision to kill the animal, a wave of outrage and anger began to focus on the as yet unidentified parents of the four-year-old, who was captured on video in the ape's enclosure.
Director Thane Maynard supported the zoo's dangerous animal response team for their decision to put down the gorilla, a 17-year-old western lowland gorilla called Harambe.
"They made a tough choice and they made the right choice because they saved that little boy's life," he said.
Tranquilizers may not have taken effect in time to save the boy while the dart might have agitated the animal, worsening the situation, said Mr Maynard.
Visitors to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanial Gardens, where the Gorilla World enclosure remained closed, said on Sunday that the incident had taught all parents a lesson.
Tricia Glenn, a parent of four, told NBC: "Listen to your parents. When they tell you don't climb and go, you have to pay attention because bad things can happen no fault of the animal."
Pointing at her own son, she added: "We have one who likes to climb everything. He climbs on everything so we have to be really careful about that."
Father of three Joseph Watts said he had reminded his children of the consequences of their actions affecting others.
"Sometimes it's not you getting into trouble, but someone else getting hurt because you not doing what you've been asked to," he said.
Some even suggested the boy's parents should be held criminally responsible for the incident. An online petition seeking "justice for Harambe" through criminal charges earned more than 8,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.
"In mourning? You all killed him for protecting a child whose parents couldn't contain their own children!!" said one commenter on the zoo's Facebook page.
In a statement, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the tragic episode was the latest proof that "captivity is never acceptable for gorillas or other primates".
The zoo said this was the first time Gorilla World has experienced a breach since the exhibit opened in 1978. The exhibit is inspected regularly by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and the United States Department of Agriculture, and adheres to safety guidelines, according to the zoo.
The boy apparently slipped through a fence and fell some 15 feet to a shallow pool in Harambe's enclosure. Video shot by another zoo visitor showed Harambe dragging the boy like a doll through the water from one end of the habitat to another.
CNN said that zoo staff and the Cincinnati Fire Department were the first responders on the scene, the zoo said. According to a CFD incident report, the gorilla was violently dragging and throwing the child, leading the zoo's emergency responders to decide to put the gorilla down "to save the child".
The response team includes full-time keepers, veterinarians, maintenance workers, zoo leadership and security staff. All members are trained and certified annually by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.