Why Did Cincinnati Zoo Shoot Harambe The Gorilla?

A tragic accident Saturday at the Cincinnati Zoo forced handlers to shoot and kill Harambe the gorilla after a young boy fell into the animal's enclosure. While Harambe's unfortunate death has brought new awareness to the importance of observing zoo rules it has also sparked some questions on whether killing the gorilla was necessary.

Zoo officials said a 4-year-old boy crawled through a barrier at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden's Gorilla World in Ohio on Saturday afternoon, falling at least 10 feet before landing in a moat inside the gorilla habitat. The boy was then picked up by Harambe, one of the zoo's male lowland gorillas, and tossed roughly about the enclosure for 10 minutes before the zoo's dangerous animal response team shot and killed Harambe.

"The Zoo security team's quick response saved the child's life," Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard said in a statement released by the zoo Saturday. "We are all devastated that this tragic accident resulted in the death of a critically endangered gorilla. This is a huge loss for the Zoo family and the gorilla population worldwide."

The boy, who has not been identified, is being treated for serious injuries at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center but is fully expected to recover, ABC News reports.

According to zoo officials, two female gorillas also roaming the enclosure at the time of the boy's fall were "recalled immediately" but Harambe "remained in the yard with the child." The zoo described the incident as a "life-threatening situation" and claimed it had been a "difficult decision" to shoot and kill the gorilla.

Maynard told USA Today's local Cincinnati affiliate that the zoo had opted to shoot Harambe rather than attempt to tranquilize him in order to protect the boy. "In an agitated situation, it may take quite a while for the tranquilizer to take effect," Maynard said. "At the instant he would be hit [with a tranquilizer], he would have a dramatic response. You don't hit him and he falls over."

Although Harambe was not attacking the child, officials were reportedly concerned the gorilla would inadvertently cause serious harm to the boy due to his size. At roughly 400 pounds, Harambe certainly could have posed a grave threat to the young child, but some have questioned whether the gorilla's death was necessary.

The incident has sparked heavy debate online with many arguing the boy's parents should have been more attentive. Shortly after news of the incident broke a petition to hold the child's parents " accountable" for Harambe's death was created, gaining more than 10,000 signatures in under 10 hours.

Harambe had turned 17 on Friday, according to the Cincinnati Zoo's official Facebook.