Over Memorial Day Weekend, millions of people erupted into outrage over the killing of the 17-year-old silverback gorilla Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo. The viral incident echoed the rage that followed the killing of Cecil the Lion by a Minnesota dentist last year, except this time the gorilla was shot and killed to save a child’s life.
On Saturday, May 28, a four-year-old boy climbed over a three-foot barrier and into a moat surrounding a gorilla exhibit. Graphic video shows the massive silverback dragging around the child as witnesses, including the boy’s mother, scream. After 10 terrifying minutes, zoo officials made the decision to kill the gorilla. Gorillas are critically endangered, and countless Americans have expressed anger at the zoo and the child’s mother over the handling of the incident.
Cincinatti Echoes Brookfield Zoo Incident, When Female Gorilla Saved Boy’s Life
For Chicago residents, the incident echoes a 1996 incident at the Brookfield zoo, when another small boy climbed a railing and fell into a gorilla enclosure. In a shocking development, an eight-year-old female gorilla Binti Jua picked up the boy and protected him from the other agitated primates.
A famous video shows Binti Jua cradling and rocking the unconscious boy, shielding him from the other animals. The gorilla was soon named Newsweek’s Hero of the Year and one of People magazine’s most intriguing people of 1996. Now 28, Binti Jua still resides at the Brookfield Zoo.
Initially, many Americans believed the Cincinnati incident involved similar protective instincts, though zoo officials say new video shows the gorilla violently dragging the boy around the enclosure.
Initially, many people believed the massive gorilla was protecting the child, which helped drive the outrage over the primate’s death. British tabloid The Mirror wrote a story with the headline, “Astonishing new footage shows gorilla ‘PROTECTING’ boy and holding his hand before being shot dead.”
Did Cincinatti Zoo Officials Make the Right Call?
“That child’s life was in danger, and people who question that, who are Monday morning quarterbacks, who are second guessers, don’t understand that you can’t take a risk with a silverback gorilla, they’re very big,” said Thane Maynard, the embattled director of the Cincinnati Zoo.
Defending the gorilla enclosure’s barrier at one of many press conferences over the incident, Maynard said, “The exhibit is safe, and the barrier is safe. That said, any of us in this room could climb over barriers if we choose.”
Zoos are not typically dangerous attractions, unless visitors ignore common sense. Still, there have been high-profile animal attacks at places like SeaWorld in the past.
Although precise statistics on zoo safety are not available, working at a zoo is far less dangerous than more common occupations like construction or driving. In 2013, 4,585 people died in workplace accidents, with 20.2% involving construction-related accidents.
Unlike other industries, zoos are not bound by a specific workplace safety code but instead abide by voluntary regulations and general Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines. And ultimately, in tragic situations like the one in Cincinnati, wildlife handlers are forced to make tough judgement calls.
While many people have come to understand the zoo’s decision, the boy’s mother is still under fire from outraged viewers. According to witnesses, the boy talked about entering the gorilla exhibit and climbed the fence while his mother was busy with other young children.
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