Watchdog group wants Zoo held responsible

2016-06-01 06:45
(John Minchillo, AP)

(John Minchillo, AP)

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Cincinnati - An animal protection watchdog group on Tuesday called on federal authorities to hold the Cincinnati Zoo responsible for the death of an endangered western lowland gorilla.

The zoo's director, Thane Maynard, said on Monday it remained safe for its 1.6 million annual visitors despite a weekend tragedy in which the gorilla,  called Harambe, was shot dead to protect a 4-year-old boy who had entered its exhibit. But, he added that a review is underway to determine any improvements that can be made.

Gain access

Maynard said the powerful gorilla was agitated and disoriented by the commotion during the 10 minutes after the boy fell and that the zoo stands by the decision to shoot the 17-year-old animal. 

The boy was taken to a hospital and and later released. 

The Cincinnati-based Stop Animal Exploitation NOW said the US Department of Agriculture, which inspects zoo facilities, should fine the zoo for violating the Animal Welfare Act by having an exhibit in which people can gain access to animals.

Tanya Espinosa, a spokesperson for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said on Tuesday there wasn't an investigation open yet, but that the service will "be looking into this incident."

"The (zoo's) barrier obviously isn't sufficient to keep the public out," the watchdog group's executive director, said Michael Budkie, "otherwise, Harambe wouldn't be dead."

He said the zoo has had past issues, including in March, when two polar bears wandered through an open den door into a service hallway. The zoo reported March 16 that zoo visitors were moved for safety after a male and female bear entered the behind-the-scenes service area, but remained contained.

Deeply saddened

Zoo staff moved the bears back to their main containment area with two hours, the zoo said at the time, adding that there were no injuries to bears or people.

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.

The Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, where Harambe spent most of his life, said its staff is deeply saddened by the gorilla's death. Harambe was sent to Cincinnati less than two years ago in hopes he would eventually breed with gorillas there.


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