Did this gorilla really have to die?
New video footage of Harambe the gorilla suggests he was trying to protect a four-year-old boy who fell into the zoo enclosure just minutes before the 400-pound animal was fatally shot.
The clip shows Harambe standing guard over the boy in the corner of the moat, and the two even share a brief moment holding hands.
Witnesses said the gorilla was acting protectively in the tense situation, which may have been aggravated by panicked onlookers who screamed as they watched from above.
Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard confirmed the boy was not under attack, but called it a ‘life threatening situation’ where the gorilla was ‘agitated’, ‘disoriented’, and ‘behaving erratically’.
During a press conference on Monday afternoon, Maynard supported the animal response team’s decision to kill Harambe, and said: ‘Looking back we would make the same decision.’
He also insisted the zoo’s barriers were secure, saying: ‘We all need to work to make sure our families are safe. Do you know any four-year-olds? They can climb over anything.’
The incident, which was captured on a cell phone camera, has sparked an outcry of emotion, with thousands of mourners branding it a ‘senseless death’.
A mother who was at the zoo said she tried to stop the child, who authorities believe crawled past the railing and fell 10 feet into the gorilla’s habitat, where he spent more than 10 minutes.
‘I tried to prevent it, I tried to grab him and I just couldn’t get to him fast enough,’ Brittany Nicely told WHIO.
According to Nicely, the gorilla was acting protectively towards the boy and did not exhibit any threatening behavior.
A newly released video shows Harambe standing over the boy in the corner of the moat, appearing to shield him from the screaming crowd above.
The animal then dragged the boy by the leg, but the two shared a surprisingly tender moment when the four-year-old reached for Harambe’s arm and the two briefly held hands.
According to the fire department incident report, the gorilla was ‘violently dragging and throwing the child’, WLWT reported.
But Nicely contradicted the account, saying: ‘What the first responders saw, I’m just not sure…They said he was violently throwing the child around, which seems crazy to me.
‘They have a picture of the boy sitting in front of the gorilla moments before they shot him.’
Kim O’Connor told WLWT she heard the boy talking about getting into the water before she heard a splash, followed by frantic yelling when onlookers realized he was inside the enclosure.
According to O’Connor, the gorilla looked like he was trying to protect the boy from panicked bystanders who may have aggravated the tense situation.
‘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,’ she said.
Harambe later dragged the four-year-old out of the moat before he was fatally shot with a rifle while the boy was still between the animal’s legs.
The zoo director confirmed the gorilla did not appear to be attacking the child, but he described it as ‘an extremely strong animal in an agitated situation’.
‘You’re talking about an animal that’s over 400 pounds and extremely strong. So no, the child wasn’t under attack but all sorts of things could happen in a situation like that. He certainly was at risk,’ Maynard told WLWT.
During a press conference on Monday, Maynard said Harambe was ‘behaving erratically’, before adding: ‘The child wasn’t just being endangered, but dragged around by the ankle and hurt.’
He explained that tranquilizing the gorilla, which could have taken several attempts, would have left the boy in danger since the effect would not have been immediate.
He also said in a statement released Sunday: ‘The impact from the dart could agitate the animal and cause the situation to get much worse.
‘We are heartbroken about losing Harambe, but a child’s life was in danger and a quick decision had to be made.’
He supported the zoo’s dangerous animal response team for their decision to kill Harambe, and said: ‘They made a tough choice and they made the right choice because they saved that little boy’s life.’
During Monday’s press conference, Maynard said he wasn’t there to ‘point fingers’ but said: ‘We all need to work to make sure our families are safe.’
‘We’re the ones who took the loss on this- you can trust me, a lot of people expressed concerns, but it doesn’t affect anyone as much as the people at the zoo.
‘This is a very big loss to the zoo- not just an emotional loss, but a loss to a key conservation and breeding program.’