Killed gorilla seemed to protect child who fell in enclosure: witness

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Cincinnati Zoo Kills 400-Pound Gorilla to Rescue Trapped Toddler

A visitor who recorded the harrowing moments after a 3-year-old boy fell into the gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo said Sunday that the hulking ape appeared to be more of a gentle giant — protecting the child before the animal was shot dead.

The video shows Harambe, a male Western lowland silverback gorilla, place his paw on the child before the boy back. Harambe gently nudges the boy toward him and then tugs on the back of his pants.

In a separate part of the video, the 450-pound gorilla stands over the boy on all fours, while onlookers shout in the background.

"I don't know if the screaming did it or too many people hanging on the edge, if he thought we were coming in, but then he pulled the boy down away further from the big group," Kim O'Connor, who shot the video, told NBC station WLWT.

In the video, a woman can be heard screaming "Mommy loves you."

"I'm right here," a woman shouts, while others shriek in the background. "Please protect him, God, please protect him."

Photos of the gorilla who was killed after a child fell into his enclosure:

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Gorilla killed after toddler falls into moat
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Killed gorilla seemed to protect child who fell in enclosure: witness
Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo is pictured in this undated handout photo provided by Cincinnati Zoo. REUTERS/Cincinnati Zoo/Handout via ReutersATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
A child touches the head of a gorilla statue where flowers have been placed outside the Gorilla World exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Sunday, May 29, 2016, in Cincinnati. On Saturday, a special zoo response team shot and killed Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla, that grabbed and dragged a 4-year-old boy who fell into the gorilla exhibit moat. Authorities said the boy is expected to recover. He was taken to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Lucas Salcedo, 5, points toward the shuttered Gorilla World exhibit as he asks his father if they could enter at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Sunday, May 29, 2016, in Cincinnati. On Saturday, a special zoo response team shot and killed Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla, that grabbed and dragged a 4-year-old boy who fell into the gorilla exhibit moat. Authorities said the boy is expected to recover. He was taken to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Visitors pass a gorilla statue where flowers have been placed outside the Gorilla World exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Sunday, May 29, 2016, in Cincinnati. On Saturday, a special zoo response team shot and killed Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla, that grabbed and dragged a 4-year-old boy who fell into the gorilla exhibit moat. Authorities said the boy is expected to recover. He was taken to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Children pause at the feet of a gorilla statue where flowers and a sympathy card have been placed, outside the Gorilla World exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Sunday, May 29, 2016, in Cincinnati. On Saturday, a special zoo response team shot and killed Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla, that grabbed and dragged a 4-year-old boy who fell into the gorilla exhibit moat. Authorities said the boy is expected to recover. He was taken to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Children read a sympathy card left at the feet of a gorilla statue outside the Gorilla World exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Sunday, May 29, 2016, in Cincinnati. On Saturday, a special zoo response team shot and killed Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla, that grabbed and dragged a 4-year-old boy who fell into the gorilla exhibit moat. Authorities said the boy is expected to recover. He was taken to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
This #Gorilla thing has me stressed out, I know that there was a child in the cage, but the animal did nothing to the child.
I'm so mad reading about this gorilla story . The gorilla didn't even look like a threat
The parents need to be held accountable RT @Channel4News: gorilla shot dead after a boy fell into its zoo enclosure https://t.co/54KjJju8i3
A magnificent gorilla dies because parents can't watch their kids. There I fixed it https://t.co/k8pUBs2SGV
Put endangered gorilla in zoo. Allow child into gorilla's cage. Shoot gorilla dead. Redefine "conservation". https://t.co/TeWZJSBuE9
I may be ignorant to gorilla psychology but, if the gorilla wanted to harm the boy, wouldn't he have done it? looked like protection to me
Yo kid stumble into a gorilla cage, pretty sure that gorilla can raise the kid better than you
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The station said it removed the more graphic parts of the video, in which the gorilla drags the boy through the moat in the gorilla enclosure.

Cincinnati Fire Chief Marc Monahan said Saturday that first responders saw the gorilla "dragging and throwing the child."

The 3-year-old — authorities initially misreported his age as 4 — was in the enclosure for more than 10 minutes before he was rescued and taken to Cincinnati Children's Hospital in serious condition, officials said. He was released from the hospital on Saturday night and was safe at home, his family said Sunday.

Harambe was fatally shot during the rescue.

"The Zoo security team's quick response saved the child's life," Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard said. But he expressed remorse that the Western lowland silverback, a critically endangered species, had to be killed.

"The zoo's in the business of taking care of endangered animals, and we don't want to be in the situation in which they have to be killed," Maynard said at a news conference Saturday. "Harambe was a good guy."

The boy's family said they understood that killing Harambe was a "very difficult decision for them, and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla."

"We are so thankful to the Lord that our child is safe," they said. "He is home and doing just fine. We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff."

Maynard said Harambe wasn't tranquilized because the drugs could have taken a while to become effective in an animal of Harambe's size.

Maynard said "the right choice was made," but on social media, people expressed outrage that an endangered animal was killed.

"This gorilla was killed bc [because] of parents negligence," wrote one person on Twitter.

O'Connor who filmed the incident, said she heard the 4-year-old say he wanted to go into the gorilla moat.

"The little boy himself had already been talking about wanting to ... get in the water. The mother's like, 'No, you're not, no, you're not,'" O'Connor recalled, adding that the mother was taking care of several other children.

The incident was the first time anyone had gained access to the gorilla enclosure, and the exhibit is believed to be secure, Maynard said. "Nevertheless, we will study this incident as we work toward continuous improvement for the safety of our visitors and animals," he said Sunday.

The animal rights group PETA criticized the zoo for not having a second protective barrier around the gorilla habitat and made its argument that wild animals shouldn't be housed at zoos in the first place.

"Even under the 'best' circumstances, captivity is never acceptable for gorillas or other primates, and in cases like this, it's even deadly," PETA said in a statement. "This tragedy is exactly why PETA urges families to stay away from any facility that displays animals as sideshows for humans to gawk at."

Julia Gallucci, a primatologist with PETA, also said in the statement that a gorilla acting in a nurturing way toward a human wouldn't be out of character.

"Gorillas have shown that they can be protective of smaller living beings and react the same way any human would to a child in danger," Gallucci said.

While the zoo was open Sunday, the gorilla attraction remained closed.

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