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Expert: Cincinnati Zoo had no choice but to kill gorilla after boy fell in cage

A June 20, 2015 photo provided by the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden shows Harambe, a western lowland gorilla, who was fatally shot Saturday, May 28, 2016, to protect a 4-year-old boy who had entered its exhibit. (Jeff McCurry/Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden via The Cincinatti Enquirer via AP)

LISTEN: Dr. Grey Stafford on the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla shooting incident

PHOENIX — The Cincinnati Zoo had no option but to kill an endangered silverback gorilla after a child fell in its cage over the weekend, an Arizona expert said.

“When you look at that video footage, it’s pretty clear that animal was aroused and concerned about the surroundings and the shrieking crowd noise,” Grey Stafford with the Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium in Goodyear told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News on Tuesday.

“You know, when you’ve got the life of a young child in the balance, there really is no other option.”

The male western lowland gorilla named Harambe was killed Saturday by a special zoo response team that feared for the boy’s safety. Video taken by zoo visitors showed the gorilla at times appeared to be protective of the boy but also dragged him through the shallow moat.

Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard said the gorilla could crush a coconut in one hand and there was no doubt that the boy’s life was in danger.

Jack Hanna, host of “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild,” agreed with Stafford and said the zoo made the right call by shooting the gorilla. Hanna said he saw video of the gorilla jerking the boy through the water and knew what would happen if the animal wasn’t killed.

“Zoos have these types of lethal force teams in place for just this reason,” Stafford said.

Maynard said an investigation indicates the boy climbed over a 3-foot-tall railing, then walked through an area of bushes about 4 feet deep before plunging some 15 feet into the moat. The boy was treated at a hospital and released that same day.

Kim O’Connor, who witnessed the boy’s fall, told WLWT-TV that she heard the youngster say he wanted to get in the water with the gorillas. She said the boy’s mother was with several other young children and told him no.

Many social media commenters have criticized the boy’s parents and said they should be held accountable. A Cincinnati police spokesman said no charges were being considered. A spokeswoman for the family said Monday they had no plans to comment.

Anthony Seta, an animal rights activist in Cincinnati, helped organize a vigil Monday just outside the zoo gates. He said the gathering wasn’t meant to assess blame but rather to honor Harambe, who turned 17 the day before he was shot.

“People can shout at the parents and people can shout at the zoo,” Seta said. “The fact is that a gorilla that just celebrated his birthday has been killed.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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