Ohio zoo defends safety where boy climbed barrier and gorilla died

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Gorilla World exhibit is safe, Cincinnati Zoo director says

CINCINNATI, May 30 (Reuters) - The director of the Cincinnati Zoo insisted on Monday that a three-foot (one-meter) barrier around the gorilla enclosure was adequate, even though a 4-year-old boy was able to climb over it and fall in, forcing zookeepers to shoot the ape dead after it grabbed him and dragged him around.

The death of the gorilla, a 17-year-old Western lowland silverback named Harambe, outraged animal lovers, about 20 of whom staged a vigil outside the zoo. More than 200,000 people signed online petitions on Change.org to protest the shooting, some demanding "Justice for Harambe" and urging police to hold the child's parents accountable.

"The barriers are safe. The barriers exceed any required protocols," Thane Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, said in answer to questions at a news conference about the incident on Saturday. "The trouble with barriers is that whatever the barrier some people can get past it. ... No, the zoo is not negligent," he said.

Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, stood by the decision to shoot the gorilla after he dragged the boy around by the ankle. He said the ape was not simply endangering the child but actually hurting him.

Photos of the Harambe the gorilla and his memorial:

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Gorilla killed after toddler falls into moat
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Ohio zoo defends safety where boy climbed barrier and gorilla died
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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"Looking back, we would make the same decision," he said.

"The gorilla was clearly agitated. The gorilla was clearly disoriented," said Maynard, while lamenting the loss of "an incredibly magnificent animal."

The zoo received thousands of messages of sympathy and support from around the world, he said.

Still, Maynard faced a series of questions about how a 4-year-old was able to climb the barrier and through the bushes and reach the 15-foot drop into the water surrounding the enclosure.

The exhibit met standards set by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which conduct regular inspections, Maynard said.

He said zookeepers would review the barrier but he made no promise to redesign it.

The zoo association's 2016 accreditation standards, published on its website, said "some means of deterring public contact with animals (e.g., guardrails/barriers) must be in place."

"Insufficient barrier fencing" is listed as one risk to visitors.

Animal lovers turned their anger toward the parents while mourning the death of the gorilla, lighting candles and holding "Rest in Peace" signs at the vigil.

"That child's life was in danger. At the end of the day, it falls on the parents. No one else," said Vanessa Hammonds, 27, who said she flew in from Houston to attend the vigil.

Authorities have not identified the boy. Michelle Gregg, who identified herself on Facebook as his mother, asked others not to judge her because "accidents happen." She said her son was recovering from a concussion and a few scrapes.

A family statement on Sunday expressed condolences for the animal's death.

"We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff," the statement said. "We know that this was a very difficult decision for them, and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla."

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