Canada’s zoos reminded about safety after gorilla death

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zoo gorilla
A boy brings flowers to put beside a statue of a gorilla outside the shuttered Gorilla World exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Monday, May 30, 2016, in Cincinnati. A gorilla named Harambe was killed by a special zoo response team on Saturday after a 4-year-old boy slipped into an exhibit and it was concluded his life was in danger. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

TORONTO – The main regulatory body for Canada’s zoos says the death of a gorilla in the United States should serve as a “teachable moment” for Canadian organizations.

Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums says it will be sending an advisory to its members reminding them to ensure its safety protocols are sound and able to protect staff and patrons.

Staff in Cincinnati shot and killed Harambe, a 17-year-old endangered lowland gorilla, after a four-year-old boy fell into its enclosure and was dragged by the animal.

There has been public outcry denouncing the zoo for killing the gorilla, but officials say the decision was necessary to avoid the risk of having the giant animal crush the boy by mistake.

CAZA executive director Massimo Bergamini says this is the time of year during which member zoos tend to review their systems, and the weekend tragedy is a timely reminder of why this is necessary.

He said such incidents are very rare in both Canada and the U.S., relative to the number of people that visit zoos each year.

Bergamini said all CAZA members must show top-of-the-line safety procedures as part of the accreditation process, adding Harambe’s death is a sad reminder of how quickly accidents can happen.

“In addition to having policies and procedures in place, this involves holding regular emergency simulation exercises to ensure that in the event of an incident, trained Emergency Response Personnel are mobilized, know exactly what to do, and have the necessary equipment on hand as well as the authority to act,” he said in a statement.

Bergamini said the staff in Cincinnati handled the situation exactly right, adding the decision to kill the gorilla likely spared a human life.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums shared his view, saying the weekend incident played out as it did due to planning and preparation for just such an event.

Spokesman Rob Vernon said the association’s accreditation procedure requires members to conduct four safety drills a year and have a response plan in place for dangerous animals.

“I think that preparation is what you saw happen in Cincinnati where the zoo professionals were able to resolve the situation very quickly,” Vernon said. “They have a top-notch staff there, and it showed yesterday during an unfortunate incident.”

But others took a different view of the Cincinnati Zoo actions, questioning why a member of an endangered species had to be put down rather than tranquilized.

“It’s so sad that a poor gorilla had to be shot dead because a woman couldn’t look after her child and a zoo didn’t have enough protection,” wrote one Twitter user.

“Absolutely makes me weep with sadness. Poor #Harambe the #gorilla. Stupid parents, control your children!” wrote another.

British television personality Piers Morgan waded into the fray too, putting blame squarely on the zoo.

“RIP Harambe. A magnificent gorilla dies because a zoo failed to make its barriers safe,” he tweeted.

The zoo’s director, Thane Maynard, said its dangerous-animal response team, consisting of full-time animal keepers, veterinarians and security staff, made the right call to kill the gorilla. He noted that the 190-kilogram gorilla didn’t appear to be attacking the child but was in an “agitated situation” and was “extremely strong.” A tranquilizer wouldn’t have immediately felled the gorilla, leaving the child in danger, Maynard said.

Protesters were planning a vigil at the Cincinnati Zoo on Monday in protest of the animal’s death.