Cincinnati Zoo responds to questions about gorilla’s death

(Provided Photo/Kim O'Connor)

CINCINNATI, OH (WCMH/AP) – Dozens of animal rights advocates and others held a Memorial Day vigil at the Cincinnati Zoo in remembrance of a gorilla that was fatally shot to protect a 4-year-old boy who entered its exhibit.

The male western lowland gorilla named Harambe was killed Saturday by a special zoo response team that feared the boy’s life was in danger. Video taken by zoo visitors showed the gorilla at times appeared to be protective of the boy but also dragged him through the shallow moat.

Anthony Seta, an animal rights activist in Cincinnati, called the death “a senseless tragedy” but said the purpose of Monday’s vigil wasn’t to point fingers. Rather, he said, it was a tribute to Harambe, who turned 17 the day before he was shot.

“People can shout at the parents and people can shout at the zoo,” Seta said. “The fact is that a gorilla that just celebrated his birthday has been killed.”

Kim O’Connor, who witnessed the boy’s fall, has said she heard the youngster say he wanted to get in the water with the gorillas. She said the boy’s mother was with several other young children.

“The mother’s like, ‘No, you’re not. No, you’re not,’” O’Connor told WLWT-TV.

In the days since, people have taken to social media to voice their outrage about the killing of a member of an endangered species. A Facebook page called “Justice for Harambe” was created Saturday night, along with online petitions and another page calling for a June 5 protest at the zoo.

A couple dozen people gathered outside the Cincinnati Zoo Monday afternoon to remember the gorilla.

“He was a Cincinnatian, just as much as anybody else here, and he’s going to be missed,” Anthony Seta, an animal activist, told NBC4’s Olivia Fecteau. “If this person was a sports figure, if this person was a political figure, and they were shot in the city, we’d have outpouring for that person as well. Why should it be any different if it’s one of our lowland gorillas?”

“I’m glad the little boy’s OK and I think the zoo did what they thought was best, but not as far as animal rights were concerned,” Helen Gaynor, another activist, said.

The zoo’s director, Thane Maynard, said its dangerous-animal response team, consisting of full-time animal keepers, veterinarians and security staff, made the right call to kill the gorilla. He noted that the 400-pound-plus gorilla didn’t appear to be attacking the child but was in an “agitated situation” and was “extremely strong.” A tranquilizer wouldn’t have immediately felled the gorilla, leaving the child in danger, Maynard said.

On Monday, he said the zoo had received messages of support and condolences from around the world. He said visitors left flowers at the gorilla exhibit and asked how they could support gorilla conservation.

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