It’s the story that gripped the globe this week, and now US police have launched a criminal investigation into an incident at Cincinnati Zoo, which prompted zoo keepers to kill prized gorilla Harambe, after a young child climbed over a barrier and fell into his enclosure.
The police investigation will determine whether or not criminal charges will be laid against the mother for criminal negligence, or even against zoo keepers for killing the animal.
The story has filled TV and radio talk show airwaves, triggering hundreds of thousands of social media posts.
It’s created enormous debate with fiercely divided opinion, and many questions asked about how a three-year old child managed to get into an animal enclosure, and why a rare gorilla was shot and killed.
Hopefully, the investigation will provide some answers.
Witnesses say three-year old Isiah Gregg climbed over a one-metre high barrier, then fell more than four metres into the moat of the gorilla enclosure at the zoo.
Streams of video footage have emerged in the wake of the incident, some showing Harambe handling the child tenderly, others seemingly depicting him dragging the child though the moat.
The general public, parenting bloggers, animal lovers and primate experts have all weighed in on the gorilla’s body language and intentions, with some suggesting Harambe was trying to help the boy, others fearing he was going to kill him.
Frantic 911 Call
Upon realising her son was inside the enclosure, the boy’s mother, Michelle Gregg, called 911. In a released recording of the call, she is heard shouting:
“My son fell in the zoo exhibit at the gorilla — at the Cincinnati Zoo. My son fell in with gorilla. There is a male gorilla standing over him. I need someone to contact the zoo please.”
She can also be heard calling out to her son, “Be calm, be calm!”
“He’s dragging my son. I can’t watch this,” the mother said during the call.
Shoot to kill
When zoo keepers arrived at the scene, they decided to kill the animal, instead of shooting him with a tranquiliser gun.
The director of Cincinnati Zoo has defended the killing of 200kg Harambe, saying the boy was in imminent danger.
Little Isiah was rescued after spending 10 minutes inside the enclosure. He was sent to hospital suffering concussion and minor scrapes and bruises. The family said they had no intention of suing the zoo over the incident.
His mother issued a statement on Facebook confirming the boy was fine.
“For those of you that have seen the news or been on social media that was my son that fell in the gorilla exhibit at the zoo. God protected my child until the authorities were able to get to him. My son is safe and was able to walk away with a concussion and a few scrapes … no broken bones or internal injuries,’ she wrote.
“As a society we are quick to judge how a parent could take their eyes off of their child and if anyone knows me I keep a tight watch on my kids. Accidents happen but I am thankful that the right people were in the right place today.”
But almost immediately, Michelle Gregg began to receive criticism for not properly supervising her boy. The family has even received death threats.
Animal lovers are outraged over the killing of Harambe, a rare Western low-lands Silver-back Gorilla. The species is on the list of critically endangered animals, and animal lovers believe the zoo should have done more to save him, such as shoot with a tranquiliser gun. Online petitions to that effect have received thousands of signatures.
Footage and photos of Harambe as a young primate cuddling and clinging to his keepers have also been released.
Animal rights group Stop Animal Exploitation Now has filed a negligence complaint against the zoo, with the US Department of Agriculture reportedly seeking the maximum penalty of $US 10,000 (almost $AUD 14,000)
While police originally said they did not think charges would be laid, they have now issued a statement saying they are reviewing all of the facts in the case.
They have appealed to witnesses to come forward, and the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office has released a statement indicating it may press criminal charges against the mother, or even zoo keepers as a result of the investigation.
Reports say investigators will be focusing primarily on the parents and family, specifically their actions leading up to the incident, rather than the general operation or safety of the zoo.