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What's next for gorilla exhibit and Harambe?

Posted: 11:09 PM, May 30, 2016
Updated: 2016-05-31 08:17:59-04

CINCINNATI -- For many, the death of rare, male gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden left unanswered questions. But this much became clear Monday: A planned expansion of the exhibit will move ahead, and the gorilla's lineage will not die.

Harambe, a 400-pound silverback, was killed Saturday after it dragged a 3-year-old boy who'd crawled through a barrier and fell into the Gorilla World enclosure. The zoo's Dangerous Animal Response Team decided to fire a fatal gunshot at the gorilla because the child was in a "life-threatening situation," zoo director Thane Maynard said. It was the first time the specialized team has had to put down in animal in the institution's 143-year history, he said.

Watch zoo experts weigh in on the danger:

 

An investigation indicates the boy climbed over a 3-foot-tall railing, then walked through an area of bushes about 4 feet deep before plunging some 15 feet into a shallow moat, Maynard said. The boy was treated at a hospital and released that same day.

Gorilla World opened in 1978, and this is the first time there has been a breach, zoo spokeswoman Michelle Curley said. Maynard said Monday the same barriers have been in place during that time.

"The exhibit is safe and the barriers are safe," he said. "That said, any of us in this room can climb over barriers if we choose."

Zoo staff are evaluating Gorilla World, Maynard said, but he didn't guarantee anything would change at the exhibit. And plans to double the size of Gorilla World are still underway.

"That's important for our long-term breeding program and gorilla conservation," Maynard said.

RELATED:  PETA says captivity took Harambe's life

Harambe was killed one day after his 17th birthday, meaning he'd not yet reached breeding maturity. The Cincinnati Zoo is a key player in gorilla breeding and conservation, and Maynard said reproductive biologists had collected viable sperm from Harambe to help his endangered species in its genetic diversity.

"It's not the end of his gene pool," he said. "In addition, he and his lineage are part of an ongoing breeding program."

Maynard said the zoo had received messages of support and condolences from around the world, including from other zoo directors and gorilla experts. A spokesman for Jane Goodall, the famed primatologist, said she had "a private conversation" with Maynard, who said she expressed her sympathy.

People second-guessing the zoo's decision may be relying on footage from bystanders that doesn't show the full extent of the danger, Maynard said. A silverback gorilla is three times larger than an average man and six times stronger, he said.

 

"This is a dangerous animal. Now, I know people will see photos or videos and say, 'Gosh, he doesn't seem dangerous.' We're talking about an animal with one hand that I've seen take a coconut and crunch it," Maynard said.

Cincinnati Fire Department District Chief Marc Monahan said firefighters who responded saw the boy "dragged around and banged around pretty violently" by the gorilla.

Jack Hanna, host of "Jack Hanna's Into the Wild," said the zoo made the right call by shooting the gorilla. Hanna said he saw video of the gorilla jerking the boy through the water and knew what would happen if the animal wasn't killed.

"I'll bet my life on this, that child would not be here today," Hanna told WBNS-TV.

Many social media commenters have criticized the boy's parents and said they should be held accountable. A Cincinnati police spokesman said no charges were being considered. A spokeswoman for the family said Monday they had no plans to comment.

 

Gorilla World remained closed Monday, but Maynard said it could reopen next weekend.