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Cincinnati zookeeper defends decision to shoot gorilla

Cincinnati Zoo director Thane Maynard responded Monday to critics of the zoo's decision to shoot a gorilla that was dragging around a small human child. "We live in the real world, we make real decisions," he said at a news conference.

Animal activists hold memorial for 17-year-old gorilla shot after boy fell into enclosure

Cincinnati Zoo director Thayne Maynard responds to critics of the zoo's decision to shoot a gorilla 0:44

Cincinnati Zoo director Thane Maynard responded Monday to critics of the zoo's decision to shoot a gorilla that was dragging around a small human child.

"We live in the real world, we make real decisions," he said at a news conference.

The 17-year-old endangered lowland gorilla named Harambe was killed at the Cincinnati Zoo after a three-year-old boy slipped into an exhibit and a special zoo response team concluded his life was in danger.

"You can't take a risk with a silverback gorilla," Maynard said. "We're talking about an animal that I've seen take a coconut and crush it [with one hand]."

Some have questioned why the zoo didn't tranquillize the animal instead of killing it. Maynard said that shooting Harambe with a tranquillizer dart could have prompted aggression before the sedative set in, possibly causing more danger to the child.

"When you see clips, you might not see everything that happened," said Maynard. "[The boy's] head was banging on concrete; this was not a gentle thing."

Maynard said the child climbed over the barrier, falling through bushes and into the moat. The gorilla noticed the visitors' reactions and got into the water with the child, dragging him through the moat by his ankle. He then carried him to land, where he continued to drag the child.

Cincinnati Zoo director Thayne Maynard outlines events leading to the shooting of the gorilla 1:15

The gorilla wasn't trying to eat the child, but was disoriented said Maynard.

The sequence of events lasted about 10 minutes before Harambe was shot.

"We stand by our decision, and we'd make the same call today," he added.

Nicknamed 'Handsome Harambe'

Maynard said the gorilla, nicknamed "Handsome Harambe" by his keepers, "certainly is missed" by the entire Cincinnati Zoo community.

Gorillas are one of the world's most endangered animals, Maynard said, and the zoo's breeding program is working to boost their population.

Harambe's sperm has been saved by the zoo, so his lineage will continue.

The boy hasn't been identified, but his family says he is doing fine at home.

"We are very glad that the little boy is OK; that's one happy thing in a very bad story," Maynard said.

Maynard said that despite the boy's ability to climb over the barrier, the exhibit is safe. "People can climb over barriers, and that's what happened."

The zoo will be reviewing the enclosure's safety, however.

Activists call gorilla's death 'senseless'

Earlier Monday, dozens of animal rights activists attended a vigil outside the zoo. They held signs with messages such as "Rest in Peace Harambe."

Vigil organizer Anthony Seta calls the 17-year-old endangered lowland gorilla's death "a senseless tragedy" and says the gathering is meant as a memorial to Harambe. 

There has been a strong outpouring on social media from people upset the gorilla was killed Saturday. A Facebook page called "Justice for Harambe" created Saturday night has drawn wide attention.

Seta says Monday's memorial is not meant to point fingers at the zoo or the boy's parents. 

Corrections

  • In stories May 28, 29 and 30 about a gorilla shot and killed after a child fell into its enclosure, The Associated Press, relying on information provided by the Cincinnati Zoo, reported erroneously the child's age. He is three, not four.
    May 31, 2016 7:33 PM ET

With files from The Associated Press