Officials at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden said looking back, they "would make the same decision" over again to shoot the 450-pound gorilla after a boy climbed over the stainless steel barrier and fell into the enclosure, said Thane Maynard, the zoo's director.
Harambe, the 17-year-old silverback gorilla nicknamed "Handsome Harambe" by zookeepers for his good looks, was "six times stronger than a man" and acting "erratically" when he was shot and killed with the 3-year-old boy in between his legs, Maynard said during a news conference Monday.
The barrier separating visitors from the gorilla enclosure exceeded "any required protocols," Maynard said, adding that while the barrier is over 3 feet high, "anyone" can climb it if they "want to," comparing it to burglars gaining access to a locked house or car. The child was originally thought to have climbed through the 38-year-old barrier, but upon further inspection, it was determined that he climbed over it, Maynard said.
The child then fell about 15 feet into about a 18 inches of water, Maynard said, calling him a "tough little kid." Maynard said he is not "pointing fingers" on who to blame for the incident.
"We've never had a situation like this in the zoo," Maynard said, adding that drills are done "regularly" to prepare for them.
The zoo plans to double the size of the gorilla exhibit and will be "looking at" the barrier to see if changes need to be made, Maynard said.
More than 7,000 people were at the Cincinnati zoo when Harambe was killed on Saturday, Maynard said. The "difficult" decision to shoot and kill him was made after he didn't respond to a "special call" zookeepers make to call the gorillas in. Instead, he was stimulated by the child and onlookers' screams and began dragging him around, Maynard said.
The two female gorillas that lived in Harambe's group have been "looking around" for him, Maynard said, but they did not witness the shooting.
The zoo's gorilla breeding program is still "intact," Maynard said, and Harambe's bloodline has not come to an end. The zoo has a sample of his sperm, and his half sister, Gladys, still resides at the zoo.
"We lost an incredible, magnificent animal," Maynard said.
Days after Harambe was shot and killed to protect the life of a 3-year-old boy who fell into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, Jack Hanna, the Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, and the host of a series of television shows about wild animals, defended the decision to put down the animal.
"I've seen him take a green coconut, which you can't bust open with a sledgehammer and squish it like this," Hanna told "Good Morning America" about Harambe, gesturing with his hand the ease with which gorillas can crush fruit. "You're dealing with either human life or animal life here. So what is the decision? I think it's very simple to figure that out."
A witness told ABC News that the gorilla was protecting the boy, who ultimately survived the encounter.
"The little boy, once he fell, I don't think the gorilla even knew that he was in there until he heard him splashing in the water," witness Brittany Nicely told ABC News on Sunday, explaining that zoogoers' screams drew more attention to the Saturday afternoon incident.
"The gorilla rushed the boy, but did not hit the boy," Nicely said. "He almost was guarding the boy, was protecting him."
Hanna argued that the boy would have been killed were it not for the intervention of the zoo employee who shot Harambe.
"I can tell you now, that there's no doubt in my mind the child would not be here today if they hadn't made that decision," Hanna said.
The death of Harambe has reignited a debate about zoos and their purpose. PETA, one of the world's most visible animal rights organizations, released a sharply-worded statement on its website condemning the death of Harambe, arguing that zoos fail to provide an adequate home for the "complex needs" of wild animals.
"Gorillas are self-aware. They love, laugh, sing, play, and grieve. Western lowland gorillas are gentle animals. They don't attack unless they're provoked," PETA said in its statement.
Hanna defended zoos, noting that they invest money in animal preservation.
"Remember something, no one loves gorillas more than the Columbus Zoo, the Cincinnati Zoo and the zoo world," Hanna said. "We have given literally millions and millions of dollars to preserve these animals, both mountain gorillas and lowland gorillas."
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