Protocol at North Carolina Zoo says that if a human life is at risk, the zoo will kill the animal, an official said Monday as debate raged over the weekend shooting of a Cincinnati zoo gorilla after a child tumbled into the animal’s moat.
“Human life always comes first,” said Jennifer Ireland, curator of mammals at the zoo.
The zoo has seven Western lowland gorillas, the same kind of gorilla as Harambe, the animal shot in Cincinnati. These gorillas are critically endangered.
The 4-year-old boy at Cincinnati Zoo went under a rail, through wires and over a moat wall, dropping into the enclosure, according to the zoo. Video shows the animal dragging the child through the water and handling him roughly. Officials there said they had to make a quick judgment call to protect the life of the child.
Ireland said the North Carolina Zoo has similar layers of protection in place. She said staff members practice several drills throughout the year, so they can properly respond.
“We try to make sure that the exhibits are safe,” she said, “not only for our animals but for our guests.”
Some people on social media have responded to the zoo’s actions with outrage.
But like the Cincinnati and North Carolina zoos, Riverbanks Zoo & Garden in Columbia has similar protocols.
Susan Ocain, public relations manager at Riverbanks, said all three zoos are members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
“We all follow rigorous standards – guidelines – based on the species we have in our collection,” she said.