The shooting death of a 17-year-old Western Lowland silverback gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo on Saturday is creating a nationwide stir, after a three-year-old boy slipped away from his parents and climbed into the enclosure, falling 15 feet into the moat.
Zoo officials tried special calls to clear the 11 gorillas from the enclosure – they say all gorillas but Harambe responded.
Instead, the 400-pound gorilla hovered over the boy, and, at times, dragged the boy through the water, leading to the zoo’s decision to fatally shoot Harambe.
Zoo officials say a tranquilizer gun would’ve taken several minutes to take effect, and probably would’ve agitated the great ape even further.
“We did not take the shooting of Harambe lightly, but that child’s life was in danger,” Zoo Director Thane Maynard said during a press conference.
Onlookers argue that, although the ape is seen pulling the three-year-old boy across parts of the enclosure, they say it appears Harambe may have been trying to protect the boy from the screams of onlookers.
While his parents were attending to other children, the boy climbed through the barrier gate, walked past four feet of bushes, then fell into the moat.
A woman created an online petition, blaming the parents for negligence.
She is calling for an investigation into the child’s home life, and so far has gained more than 343,000 signatures.
Her petition, ‘Justice for Harambe,’ states in part:
“This beautiful gorilla lost his life because the boy’s parents did not keep a closer watch on the child. We the undersigned believe that the child would not have been able to enter the enclosure under proper parental supervision. Witnesses claim that they heard the child state that he wished to go into the enclosure and was actively trying to breach the barriers. This should have prompted the parents to immediately remove the child from the vicinity. It is believed that the situation was caused by parental negligence and the zoo is not responsible for the child’s injuries and possible trauma. We the undersigned want the parents to be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life. We the undersigned feel the child’s safety is paramount in this situation. We believe that this negligence may be reflective of the child’s home situation. We the undersigned actively encourage an investigation of the child’s home environment in the interests of protecting the child and his siblings from further incidents of parental negligence that may result in serious bodily harm or even death. Please sign this petition to encourage the Cincinnati Zoo, Hamilton County Child Protection Services, and Cincinnati Police Department hold the parents responsible.”
Despite the growing signatures, Cincinnati Police tells NBC News no crime was committed and there is no current child negligence investigation underway, calling it “an unfortunate accident.”
Another petition, created by a Chicago woman, is seeking to create a new law called ‘Harambe’s Law,’ holding visitors financially and criminally responsible when an endangered animal is injured or killed due to visitor negligence.
That petition, which now carries more than 121,000 signatures, reads in part:
“This is not the first time that this has happened in the gorilla world, it happened on August 31, 1986 at the Durrell Wildlie Park and again on August 16, 1996 at the Brookfield Zoo. In these two cases the gorilla’s were not killed and both of the children were rescued. It is too late to save Harambe, but we can protect not only the people that come to see these animals, but need to protect the animals themselves.”
In the 1996 case, near Chicago, the female gorilla carried the three-year-old child to a zookeeper’s gate.
That child’s mother was never charged with negligence.
As for this case, NBC News obtained this statement from the boy’s family: “We are so thankful to the Lord that our child is safe. He is home and doing just fine. We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff. We know that this was a very difficult decision for them, and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla.”
Zoo officials defend their actions as well as the safety of the gorilla enclosure, stating that anyone can bypass barriers if they choose.
A small protest took place at the Cincinnati Zoo on Memorial Day.
The gorilla exhibit remains closed, but could reopen this weekend.