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Feds: Cincinnati Zoo's gorilla barrier didn't meet U.S. standards day Harambe was shot

Posted: 12:40 PM, Nov 17, 2016
Updated: 2016-11-17 17:49:48-05

CINCINNATI -- A barrier separating Cincinnati Zoo visitors from a gorilla exhibit wasn't in compliance with standards when a 3-year-old boy managed to slip inside, resulting in the shooting death of an endangered gorilla named Harambe, federal inspectors concluded.

The federal inspection report states that the zoo's dangerous-animal response team properly followed procedures after zoo visitors called 911 on May 28 to report a child in the gorilla enclosure.

A team member concluded that the child was in "life-threatening danger," and the 17-year-old gorilla was killed.

The death of the western lowland gorilla led to mourning around the globe and a storm of criticism and unending social media attention.

The barrier in place that day was 32" tall with two cables running below. There had never been an incident involving a member of the public crossing the barrier until May 28 since the barrier was built in 1978, according to the report.

The Agriculture Department inspectors said in a report dated June 6 that there had been "some slack" in wire cables in the barrier that could have been "manipulated to an eight-inch gap."

The zoo quickly improved the barrier following the gorilla's death. The issue was "corrected at the time of inspection," according to the repot. The zoo replaced the barrier with a new 42" nylon mesh-covered barrier in early June. They also added three surveillance cameras.

In a statement released Thursday, the zoo said the barrier "has always been found compliant during USDA inspections, including one conducted in April of 2016."

"We remain committed to visitor and animal safety and will continue to work with the USDA and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to ensure that our exhibits meet or exceed standards," Zoo Director Thane Maynard said.

U.S. Agriculture Department spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said an investigation is continuing. It could lead to fines or other disciplinary action.

"[W]hile there had not been any issues prior to the May 28 incident, it became apparent on May 28 that the barrier was no longer effective," Espinosa wrote in an email. "Facilities must make all attempts to ensure that they have barriers, but also that they are effective."

In a letter to the zoo's board of directors provided to reporters by the zoo, USDA Animal Welfare Operations Director Elizabeth Goldentyer wrote that "the barrier system at Gorilla World was considered to be in compliance" during inspections prior to the incident.

The zoo is accredited through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums until September 2019.

The family of the boy who slipped into the exhibit released the following statement Thursday:

"These findings do not change anything for us. We are thankful to the Lord that our child is safe and well. It was a tragic accident. We very much appreciate the quick actions by the Cincinnati Zoo staff, and mourn with them the loss of Harambe.

Read the full inspection report below:

Zoo Inspection by James on Scribd