Gorilla Boy Incident Sparks Conversation about Zoo Security

Gorilla Boy Incident Sparks Conversation about Zoo Security

Zoos have always functioned in the wake of criticism, but usually it is not the kind of news that would peak the interest of the security industry. On May 28, a 3-year-old boy was able to slip past several security measures into an exhibit containing three gorillas. What happened after that has set the internet on fire in what has become the great debate revolving around the decision to kill the gorilla to save the child’s life.

So what happened?

On a busy Saturday at the Cincinnati Zoo, a family entered the area around the gorillas’ enclosure, named Gorilla World. A child, who had gotten away from a distracted mother, was able to slip past a fence and tumbled down 15 feet into a moat of about 18 inches of water that surrounds the gorillas’ exhibit.

As soon as zoo officials learned of the incident they tried to contain the three gorillas in the inside portion of the enclosure, but failed to remove Harambe, the male, from the exhibit. Harambe then climbed down into the moat and was able to grab the child, dragging him through the water several times, as seen in the video below.

After the 10-minute encounter, Cincinnati Zoo officials shot and killed the endangered gorilla to save the life of the child, who was not seriously injured in the incident.

Cincinnati Zoo’s director, Thane Maynard, defended the decision to kill the 420-pound primate later at a press conference designed to acknowledge the event.

“We’re talking about an animal that I’ve seen take a coconut with one hand and crush it,” Maynard said at the press conference.

Maynard believes the animal was “acting erratically” and would have made the same decision if he had it to do all over again.

“You’re dealing with either human life or animal life here,” Maynard said. “So what is the decision? I think it’s very simple to figure that out."

Now what?

After the event, the Cincinnati Zoo is defending their approach to security of both their animals and the people that visit them on a regular basis.

The exhibit was specifically designed to gravitate away from “animals in cages” to create a more “one with the animal” experience for visitors. The natural habitats, similar to the one at the Cincinnati Zoo, are usually natural environments set behind glass or separated from the public by many yards of trenches, hedges and bamboo fences.

A federal inspection, less than two months ago, found no problems with the gorilla exhibit.

“The exhibit is safe, the barrier is safe,” Maynard said.

The breach was the first time someone had entered Gorilla World since it opened in 1978 and was billed as the first “bar-less” outdoor gorilla habitat in the nation.

For now, the zoo says it will be looking into how they can reinforce barriers around the exhibit, even though it considers the enclosure to be more secure than what is required.

What is the standard for security surrounding exhibits?

The Cincinnati Zoo isn’t the only place in the United States to have this kind of natural habitat for its large primates.

Zoo Atlanta, which boasts the nation’s largest gorilla collection, has several outdoor viewing spots that are designed to give visitors the feeling of being especially close to the animals, but they are still separated by a series of safety barriers.

Gorillas at the Columbus Zoo are in two enclosed areas behind glass and mesh. The approach is an exception to the type of open enclosure in Cincinnati, which is the industry standard.

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington has an indoor area with glass walls and an outdoor habitat surrounded by barriers made from a combination of glass panes, metal and metal frames filled with mesh. Metal railings and large planters also stand between the viewing area.

A big part of the zoo experience is the sense of being close to the animals. Zoos around the country are now dealing with the difficult task of both keeping onlookers interested and also keeping them safe.

Posted by Sydny Shepard on Jun 02, 2016

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