Famed zookeeper Jack Hanna backed the Cincinnati Zoo’s decision to shoot and kill beloved gorilla Harambe after a 4-year-old boy either jumped or fell into an enclosure Saturday.
“I’ll bet my life on this, that child would not be here today,” Hanna told WBNS-TV on Monday.
Hanna said a tranquilizer would take up to 10 minutes to take effect and that the gorilla would be agitated after getting shot.
The tragedy unfolded Saturday at the World of Gorillas exhibit. Witnesses heard the boy repeatedly ask his mother if he could swim in the shallow moat. But his mother, who may have been distracted by another child, told him no.
Moments later the boy climbed through a barrier into the enclosure, and either fell or jumped 10 feet into the moat.
Two female gorillas moved away from the child as he hit the water, but 17-year-old Harambe, a rare western lowland gorilla, seized the boy.
The 450-pound gorilla dragged the surprisingly calm child around the moat by one leg. At one point he stood the boy up in front of shocked onlookers before dragging him again.
A zoo visitor captured the incident on video. The child’s mother can be heard in the background shouting instructions to her son: “Be Calm, Mommy’s here!”
The zoo’s emergency response team soon arrived and shot and killed Harambe, even though the animal posed no threat to the boy.
Harambe’s murder sparked outrage among social media users who lashed out at the Cincinnati Zoo and the boy’s mother for not supervising her son properly.
But zoo director Thame Maynard defended the use of deadly force.
“Our first response was to call the gorillas out of the exhibit,” said Maynard in a press conference on Monday. “The two females complied, but Harambe did not.”
He said Harambe was extremely powerful and could crush a coconut in one hand.
Maynard echoed Hanna who said tranquilizers were not an option because the tranquilizers were not fast acting.
It was the same thought process used by Chilean zoo keepers who shot and killed 2 lions after a deranged man stripped naked and jumped into the big cat enclosure 2 weeks ago.
Chilean authorities say the young man wanted to be eaten alive in a desperate bid to commit suicide.
After accidentally hitting the man with a tranquilizer, the Chilean zookeepers shot and killed 2 of the lions, a male and a female.
“The zoo has an established protocol because people’s lives are very important to us,” said Chilean Metropolitan Zoo director Alejandra Montalba at the time.
The man survived the mauling and is recovering say Chilean authorities.
Meanwhile, the boy from Saturday’s tragic incident is at home and safe.
The boy’s mother, Michelle Gregg, defended herself on Facebook Sunday.
“God protected my child until the authorities were able to get to him. My son is safe and was able to walk away with a concussion and a few scrapes… no broken bones or internal injuries,” she wrote.