Criminal charges may be possible after the death of Harambe, a 17-year-old Western lowland silverback gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo. This past weekend, a four-year-old boy climbed a barrier and fell into the gorilla’s enclosure. The gorilla appeared to behave in a threatening manner, precipitating the decision of a zoo response team to shoot Harambe in order to rescue the child.
In a statement released on their Facebook page, the zoo said they were “devastated” by Harambe’s death. Director Thane Maynard said, “We are heartbroken about losing Harambe, but a child’s life was in danger and a quick decision had to be made by our Dangerous Animal Response Team. Our first response was to call the gorillas out of the exhibit. The two females complied, but Harambe did not. It is important to note that with the child still in the exhibit, tranquilizing the 450-pound gorilla was not an option. Tranquilizers do not take effect for several minutes and the child was in imminent danger. On top of that, the impact from the dart could agitate the animal and cause the situation to get worse.”
Angered, some members of the public are calling for justice for Harambe. A Change.org petition casting blame on the child’s parents has garnered around 349,400 supporters. The petition says the “negligence may be reflective of the child’s home situation” and calls for an investigation.
In addition, activist organization Stop Animal Exploitation Now filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which monitors zoos as part of the Animal Welfare Act. The group cast blame on the zoo and said the enclosure was not properly constructed. If the USDA finds the zoo has violated the Animal Welfare Act, the zoo could owe the government $10,000. According to USDA reports, a polar bear escape incident and deteriorating enclosures for horses and monkeys resulted in prior citations.
The zoo said in their statement that Gorilla World, where Harambe resided, has been “inspected regularly” by the USDA. According to Maynard, the barrier around Harambe’s enclosure had worked “for 38 years.” Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters confirmed the Cincinnati Police Department is investigating the death of Harambe. He said, “Once their investigation is concluded, they will confer with our office on possible criminal charges.”