The Cincinnati Zoo chief says that a boy who fell into a gorilla enclosure "was in danger," forcing the shooting of the ape. Animal rights activists have denounced Saturday's decision to kill the 17-year-old male.
"Politicians and pundits point fingers. We live in the real world and make real decisions," Thane Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Ohio, told a news conference on Monday.
Following the public criticism of the decision to kill the gorilla, Maynard said his team "did not take the shooting of Harambe lightly, but that boy was in danger."
On Saturday, a 4-year-old boy was able to climb over a 3-foot (roughly 1-meter) barrier, then walk through bushes before plunging some 15 feet into the gorilla enclosure.
The boy was stuck in the enclosure for about 10 minutes before zookeepers shot the gorilla dead after it had grabbed him and prevented him from crawling away.
"He [the boy] was being dragged around. His head was banging on concrete," Maynard told reporters.
The Zoo said tranquilizers would have taken several minutes to subdue the 180 kilogram gorilla. Officials pointed out that the animal might have responded violently to being shot by a tranquilizer dart, further endangering the child.
Defending accusations that the Zoo had insufficient safety barriers in place, Maynard said the enclosure met standards set by US regulators.
"The barriers are safe. The barriers exceed any required protocols," Maynard said, adding that whatever lengths they go to, some people can get past them.
Saturday's shooting prompted a social media campaign against the zoo and the child's parents, with more than 200,000 people signing online petitions to protest the incident.
Around 20 people gathered outside the zoo on Monday, lighting candles and holding "Rest in Peace" signs.
Many social media commentators criticized the boy's parents and said they should be held accountable. Although the boy has not been named, his mother, Michelle Gregg, identified herself on Facebook, and asked others not to judge her because "accidents happen." Her son has been treated in hospital for minor injuries.
A Cincinnati police spokesman said no charges were being considered.
Harambe, a 17-year-old male lowland gorilla, had been in Cincinnati for more than two years as part of the zoo's preservation program.
Officials hope to reopen the gorilla enclosure by the weekend.
mm/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters)