Outrage Grows After Gorilla Harambe Shot Dead at Cincinnati Zoo to Save Tot
A child touches the head of a gorilla statue where flowers have been placed outside the Gorilla World exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden in Cincinnati. On Saturday, a special zoo response team shot and killed Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla, after a 4-year-old boy who fell into the gorilla exhibit moat. A visitor who recorded the harrowing moments after the child fell into the exhibit said Sunday that the hulking ape appeared to be more of a gentle giant -- protecting the child before the animal was shot dead.John Minchillo / AP
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Animal rights activists continued to protest Monday over the death of a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo who was fatally shot so authorities could rescue a child who had fallen into the animal's enclosure.
A change.org petition called for the parents of the 3-year-old boy to be held responsible for the death of Harambe, a 17-year-old male Western lowland silverback gorilla.
The petition had garnered more than 138,000 signatures by Monday afternoon. Cincinnati police, however, said they had no intention of charging the family because they don’t believe a crime was committed.
Meanwhile, mourners attended a vigil for the ape, and the hashtag #JusticeForHarambe trended on Facebook.
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The family of the 3-year-old released a statement Sunday night acknowledging the zoo’s loss and thanking its staff for their “quick action.” The boy was home safe and “doing just fine,” the statement said.
The animal rights group PETA criticized the Cincinnati Zoo for not having a second protective barrier around the gorilla habitat, and argued that wild animals shouldn't be housed at zoos in the first place.
"Even under the 'best' circumstances, captivity is never acceptable for gorillas or other primates, and in cases like this, it's even deadly," PETA said in a statement. "This tragedy is exactly why PETA urges families to stay away from any facility that displays animals as sideshows for humans to gawk at."
Julia Gallucci, a primatologist with PETA, also said in the statement that the gorilla was likely trying to nurture the tot.
"Gorillas have shown that they can be protective of smaller living beings and react the same way any human would to a child in danger," Gallucci said.
“Consider Binti Jua, the gorilla who carried a child to a zookeeper's gate,” Gallucci added, referring to a 1996 incident in which an 8-year-old female gorilla named Binti Jua protected a 3-year-old from other primates after the toddler fell into a gorilla den at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.
In a separate part of the video, the 450-pound gorilla stands over the boy on all fours.
"I don't know if the screaming did it or too many people hanging on the edge, if he thought we were coming in, but then he pulled the boy down away further from the big group," Kim O'Connor, who shot the video, told NBC station WLWT.
But in two other parts of the footage, Harambe can be seen dragging the toddler through the water in gorilla enclosure’s moat. And Cincinnati Fire Chief Marc Monahan said Saturday that first responders saw the gorilla "dragging and throwing the child."
During a news conference Monday, Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard said that Harambe was “clearly disoriented” and “acting erratically.” Once zookeepers realized that the boy was in the exhibit, he said, they used special calls to clear the area of gorillas; all of them responded except Harambe.
“He was stimulated and excited,” Maynard said, adding that shooting the gorilla with a tranquilizer, which might not take effect for several minutes, would only have caused panic in the animal.
"You can’t take a risk with a silverback gorilla,” he said. “We’re talking about animal that with one hand can take a coconut and crush it.” Maynard described the gorilla’s killing as “a big loss,” but he said the boy’s safety was paramount. He called critics of the zoo’s decision “Monday morning quarterbacks” who “don’t understand primate biology.”
"We stand by our decision,” he said. “We’d make the same decision today.”
Maynard added that colleagues from around the world, including Jane Goodall, have offered support. Both the barrier and the exhibit remain safe, he said, and in compliance with federal regulations and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
But when pressed on whether the barrier would be strengthened, he said: “We’re looking at how to do that. I don’t know the answer.” The exhibit could reopen as soon as next week, Maynard said.
Elisha Fieldstadt is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.
Tim Stelloh is a reporter for NBC News, based in California.