Gorilla killed after dragging boy who entered zoo enclosure

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden Director Thane Maynard discusses the incident at the zoo where a boy fell into a gorilla habitat.(WHIO/WCPO)

CINCINNATI — A gorilla was killed after it dragged and seriously injured a 4-year-old boy who got into its enclosure Saturday at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.

A 17-year-old western lowland silverback gorilla was shot to death after a 4-year-old boy crawled through a barrier and landed in the moat at the Gorilla World habitat at the zoo around 4 p.m. The child was walking and splashing in the water before the gorilla picked him up and dragged him around the enclosure for about 10 minutes, zoo Director Thayne Maynard said, WCPO-TV reported.

The 400-pound gorilla, which turned 17 on Friday, was “slamming the child into the wall,” according to Cincinnati police reports on the incident. Witnesses said the child was screaming as he was being dragged, WCPO reported.

The zoo’s dangerous animal response team decided to kill Harambe because the boy was in immediate danger and a tranquilizer has a delayed effect, Maynard said.

“It seemed very much … to be a life-threatening situation,” the zoo director told WCPO. “They made the right choice. It could have been very bad.”

Two other gorillas in the exhibit were called back inside by zoo staff, and Harambe was shot dead. A Cincinnati Fire Department report stated the gorilla was “violently dragging and throwing the child” when they were called, and that the boy was between the gorilla’s legs when the endangered animal was shot, WLWT-TV reported.

The boy was sitting upright and was calm when rescuers pulled him from the enclosure, according to WCPO. The child — whose age originally was reported as 3 — was taken to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. His injuries were described as serious but not life-threatening, police said.

Maynard said the exhibit is safe, and that the zoo has never before had a problem with a visitor getting through the array of steel wires.

Although Maynard said Harambe’s death was justified, he expressed regret over the zoo’s loss.

“Harambe was a good guy,” Maynard said. “He was a youngster; the hope was to breed him.”

Harambe came to the zoo in April 2015 from the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. He was paired with two females.