Why was this boy allowed to fall into a gorilla enclosure? The zoo has been negligent.

I don’t see anybody discussing the most important question in the story about a gorilla being shot at Cincinnati zoo because a boy fell into his enclosure. That question is this: why was the boy allowed to get or fall into the enclosure?

Gorilla shot
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Gorilla, Harambe, shot. He was an innocent participant in this drama.

We are told that the boy climbed through a barrier and fell into a moat in the enclosure where he was grabbed by the gorilla, who incidentally was 17 years of age and very rare. He was quite a young gorilla therefore.

So, the boy climbed through a “barrier”. Clearly the barrier was not boy-proof. I can’t have been. It was an inadequate barrier. Did someone help him? Surely the owners of Cincinnati zoo should or could have foreseen the possibility of a boy climbing through the barrier. It is their job to assess risk. It is their job to protect the public. It is their job to protect kids from doing crazy things which may harm them when temporarily unattended by their parents (I know the mother was badly neglectful). And it is there job to protect the animals in their care. They have failed on all fronts.

The zoo failed to foresee this adequately. I think this is negligence. I think they should be sued to highlight this sort of inadequacy within zoos. This is not the first time it has happened by which I mean it is not the first time that a person, a child or an adult, has managed to get into a zoo enclosure in which a potentially dangerous animal lives.

Update…below is a photo of the enclosure. You can see the boy in the background with Harambe standing over him. There appears to no real barrier around the enclosure. Apparently the boy crawled under a steel railing and through wires and bushes. This barrier was not good enough.

The gorilla enclosure

The gorilla enclosure

There were four parties to this saga: the zoo keepers, the boy, the mother and the gorilla. All the humans are alive and the gorilla is dead.

Brian May the Queen guitarist said:

“Why was this gorilla murdered? No trial, no reason, no excuse. Who will prosecute?”

A similar incident regarding a gorilla took place in 1986 on the island of Jersey when a five-year-old boy fell into a gorilla enclosure. The boy lost consciousness but the silverback gorilla stood guard over him rather than trying to harm him. The gorilla was distracted and the boy recovered.

In this instance, at Cincinnati zoo, the male, 400 pound gorilla dragged the boy around for about 10 minutes. He did not harm him but there was a threat that the boy might have been harmed and therefore the decision was made to shoot the gorilla dead. Tranquillisers would not have worked fast enough it is said.

The gorilla, Harambe, whose name was born in captivity in Texas and moved to Cincinnati zoo in 2014. It had been hoped that he could have been part of a breeding programme. His death is a great loss to the zoo. Notwithstanding that sentiment the zoo has failed the boy, the boy’s parents and the gorilla. The greatest loss has been suffered by the gorilla with his life. It should not have happened.

I reiterate, the zoo has been negligent. It was foreseeable that a boy could have done what this boy did and they failed to prevent it happening. That is the most important issue at stake in this story and as far as I can see nobody is discussing it. Thayne Maynard, the zoo’s spokesman has questions to answer.

The video says when the gorilla was shot the boy was sitting calmly on a rock.


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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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24 Responses

  1. M E King says:

    The term zoo is loosely applied to many situations that shouldn’t be allowed to exist.
    Not all zoos or biological parks feature caged animals in the traditional sense. I have been to several that were bird habitats. While some birds were housed others were strictly there by choice during migration. Or simply part of the natural habitat.
    Not all wild animals are the same. Many herbivores have been bred in captivity for decades if not longer and live together in herds with a natural social structure.
    Elephants without question do not belong in a traditional zoo setting. Nor do they belong in any circus. Neither do big cats, bears and other dangerous predators.
    Sadly just about every animal you see in a biological park is close to being endangered or there already. Some like the white rhino are beyond hope.

  2. This is a very sad situation. As others have said, if the gorilla had wanted to hurt the boy, it would have happened.
    There are many aspects to this tragedy, which have been pointed out. I fear that more and more children will be the victims of parental neglect and focus on digital screens that distract them from the present moment. It’s an addiction that will not easily be reversed.

    In my town, a 4 year old drowned in a pool, with parents and several people present. What was more important than that child? Alcohol, iPhones, or Inattention? I pay more attention to my cat than many people do to their children.

    Since I’m home most of the time, I know where she is at all times. If I don’t, I do a search of her many favorite nooks. A couple of times when I couldn’t locate her in a couple of minutes, I began to fear that one of my roommates had let her out. But then, I noticed a “tell tale” tail sticking out from behind a window curtain. I called her name, and the tail moved, but she didn’t leave her spot at the window. Now that area has been added to the list of Mitzy’s hiding places that I carry in my head.

  3. Susan says:

    I read a post on Facebook from someone who lives in that area about the security surrounding the gorilla habitat. A fence, a moat, something else (I dont remember) and pyracantha shrubs. Pyracantha has thorns. I get that the zoo officials probably didn’t have a good option here. But I think that after 10 minutes, if the gorilla wanted the child dead, the child would have been dead. My understanding is that the child is not critically injured. It’s all a damn shame, and I feel worst for the person who had to fire the shot.

  4. Dee (Florida) says:

    In case I haven’t been clear in the past, I HATE ZOOS. THEY SHOULD ALL BE SHUT DOWN.
    No wild animal should ever be held captive.
    I don’t care if there was a flimsy enclosure or not.
    Parents are negligent to allow their children in close proximity of wild animals.
    My opinion is that this zoo and every zoo that has had incidents like this resulting in the unfair killing of animals, that are doing only what animals do, should be sued up the -ss and shut down by the authorities.

  5. Susan Gort says:

    Ride the clouds, Harambe! You are now safe from humans. When my children were small and we went to the zoo, they were supervised at ALL times. The next generation believes in allowing children to run wild and free-too bad that the animals no longer can run wild and free. The generation after that -wow, big surprise – everyone else is expected to watch children. Too bad Harambe lost his life watching over a human whose parents couldn’t do the job. I am running very short of patience for the majority of the human race!

  6. M E King says:

    I believe in all fairness the zoo should pay the boys medical bills and the parents should reimburse the zoo for their gorilla.
    The purpose of the high wall moat enclosures is not just for viewing pleasure. It is to keep the animals in as natural of a setting as possible. If I go to a zoo full of wild animals and apex predators there is always the chance of something going wrong. Zoos have rules posted. I’m going to guess one of them here would be children must be supervised at all times.
    The underlying reason to shoot instead of tranquilize is liability. If the child was killed or suffered major trauma lawyers would lap up money hand over fist if the zoo showed more concern for the gorilla than the child. Again distraction should have been the first method to gain control. It would have been safer for the child and the gorilla.
    It’s not specifically can someone get in the enclosure. It’s a matter of trained security personnel hired by zoos and parents who were likely busy doing something besides parenting. Perhaps the better answer is an age limit on children being admitted to the zoo. Yeah that would go over like a lead balloon.

    • Michael Broad says:

      “Again distraction should have been the first method to gain control. It would have been safer for the child and the gorilla.”

      I totally agree that ME. The way I see it is there are four “players” – the boy, the parents, the zoo keepers and the gorilla. The first three are humans. All the humans are alive and fine and the gorilla is dead. Surprised?

    • Dee (Florida) says:

      Zoos should never be in existence as well as circuses.
      They need to be outlawed.

      • M E King says:

        Most zoos shouldn’t be. Sadly even the best can only replicate natural habitat to a certain level. Sadly they are necessary as wild species are killed faster than they can reproduce in the wild. The cost of keeping a viable and diverse DNA sampling is offset by exhibition.
        Mankind refuses to curtail their own mindless breeding with human population growing and consuming natural resources faster than any can be replenished. Land/space is the most valuable commodity with only fresh potable water ahead of it.
        The harsh truth is without zoos where people who are truly dedicated to preserving a species can protect them. Most wild animals as we know them are doomed in the next decade anyway.
        So of course the minute you address a human beings right to breed at will you have something wrong with you.
        The root problem is mankind and overpopulation. Zoos serve a purpose far beyond just showcasing animals.

  7. After listening to this video broadcast, the directer in charge stated that it takes [several minutes] for a tranquilizer to work. He also states that the Gorilla was with the boy for over [ten minutes] * I have to ascertain from this fact, that if they had acted quickly, this rare Gorilla could have been saved.

    This decision for their part is not acceptable nor professional.

    Eva say’s-please note that the boy was not harmed in any way; aside from being scared. The zoo is not a playground for unsupervised children !!!

  8. Geri Fowler says:

    Sorry,I blame the parents. They were not paying attention. You cannot allow children to just wander. It does not show or say what kind of barrier existed. If the child climbed a barrier,that is on the parents. Why didn’t they notice what their child was doing? Let’s stop blaming other people for things that happen. The parents must share the blame. A zoo is not a playground. No matter how secure,there is always a way around,nothing is 100%. And to sue the zoo does not resolve the issue. The child was not harmed from what the reports say. Are you going to blame a hotel if a child falls from a balcony? The balcony has 2 barriers,a locking door and a wall,usually about 4 ft. high. So,the parents leave the door open,fail to pay attention to the child,child climbs wall and falls. Parents need to be responsible and use common sense. Parents need to parent,and get off their phones. I see it all the time,parents glued to the phone,children running about. I am sorry the child was frightened,but the actions or inaction of the parents created the situation. If the barrier was the true problem,this would happen on a regular basis.

    • Michael Broad says:

      I agree Geri, that the parents are at fault, big time but….the zoo management should factor into their security arrangements and risk assessment: crappy parents.

      I also agree that there are far too many parents who are substandard.

    • Dee (Florida) says:

      Zoos should never be in existence as well as circuses.
      They need to be outlawed.

      • Gary says:

        I do not appreciate glass, concrete and confined space…like forcing me to live in my garage with a glass wall replacing the door. And yes, caregivers share responsibility for children with the zoo. Banks protect money against theft more rigorously than zoos protect one dangerous species from another.

    • Karen says:

      I blame the mother, too. She was negligent for not watching the child. It took a lot of effort for that boy to get into the enclosure. And, it took some time for him to do it, as well. Where was mom and what was she doing while her kid went off on his own? Perhaps she’s one of those nut job moms who encouraged him? Who knows? She sounds way too calm on the video . . . “Mommy’s here with you.” Mommy dearest! I am not a fan of Animal Prisons (Zoos) however, this is clearly the fault of the mother! More investigation is needed here, me thinks!

      • Michael Broad says:

        I agree Karen. I was irritated by the mother’s cries. They just seemed so ridiculous and ineffectual. She’s totally failed her son. However, as I said, the zoo should foresee all eventualities including naughty boys and stupid moms.

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