Zoo staff believe the boy crawled through a fence before falling into a moat surrounding the enclosure, when he was grabbed by the gorilla
A special zoo response team has shot and killed a 17-year-old gorilla that grabbed and dragged a four-year-old boy who fell into the gorilla exhibit moat, the Cincinnati Zoo’s director said.
Authorities said the boy, who fell 10ft to 12ft, is expected to recover after being picked up out of the moat and dragged by the gorilla for about 10 minutes. He was taken to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre with serious injuries.
Director Thane Maynard said the zoo’s dangerous animal response team, which practices for such incidents, decided the boy was in “a life-threatening situation” and that they needed to put down the 181kg-plus male gorilla named Harambe.
“They made a tough choice and they made the right choice because they saved that little boy’s life,” Maynard said. “It could have been very bad.”
A Cincinnati fire department incident report said the gorilla “was violently dragging and throwing the child” when they were called.
The child was in between the gorilla’s legs when the gorilla was shot, fire officials said.
Maynard said he hadn’t talked with the boy’s parents yet.
He said the gorilla didn’t appear to be attacking the child, but that it was “an extremely strong” animal in an agitated situation. He said tranquilising the gorilla wouldn’t have knocked it out immediately, leaving the boy in danger.
Maynard said it was the first time the team had killed a zoo animal in such an emergency situation, and he called it “a very sad day” at the zoo. The lowland gorilla is an endangered species.
The incident was reported at around 4pm. The area around the gorilla exhibit was closed off on Saturday afternoon as zoo visitors reported hearing screaming.
Harambe came to Cincinnati in 2015 from the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas.
Hospital officials said they couldn’t release any information on the child. Authorities hadn’t released the child’s name.
Maynard said the zoo’s Gorilla World area would be open as usual on Sunday. He said the zoo believed the exhibit remains safe. They are still investigating, but zoo officials believe the boy crawled through a railing barrier, then fell into the moat.
The zoo prides itself for its work in protecting endangered species, and has been part of successful captive breeding efforts in recent years in the effort to save the endangered Sumatran rhino.