New video footage of a gorilla shot dead after he appeared to drag a boy who had apparently fallen into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo suggest the animal may have actually been trying to protect the child.
In the clip, Harambe, a 400-pound, 17-year-old male gorilla, can be seen standing over the boy in the corner of the moat and at one point holds hands with the 4-year-old child before being fatally shot Saturday.
Witnesses said the gorilla appeared to be acting protectively and may have become aggravated by screaming onlookers panicked by the tense situation.
“[Harambe] just held onto him, and went up the ladder and just threw him,” zoo-goer Tangie Hollifield told WCPO-TV. “But I don’t think he was hurting him. He was just trying to protect him.”
Zoo officials made the decision to fatally shoot Harambe, who was “extremely strong,” after they determined the child’s life was in danger, Zoo Director Thane Maynard said in a statement.
They decided to not use a tranquilizer because it could have taken too long to work, Maynard said.
Witnesses claimed that they heard the boy talking about getting in the water with the gorillas before he was seen in the enclosure.
Brittany Nicely was watching the gorillas with her children when she said she spotted the child crawling in the bushes. She tried to grab him, but wasn’t able to him in time.
“I was just trying to stop him from jumping,” Nicely said to WCPO-TV. “It was very clear that he wanted to get into the water… he was on a mission.”
The boy’s family released a statement after the incident, saying: “We are so thankful to the Lord that our child is safe. He is home and doing just fine.
“We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff. We know that this was a very difficult decision for them, and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla. We hope that you will respect our privacy at this time."
A woman claiming to be the boy’s mother posted on Facebook that she believed “God protected my child until authorities were able to get to him… Accidents happen but I am thankful that the right people were in the right place at today.”
Outraged animal lovers took to social media to bash the family and the zoo, saying the western lowland gorilla’s life was unnecessarily taken.
“Beautiful animals sadly paying for utter stupidity and negligence with their lives,” one person tweeted.
“Poor #Harambe. He didn’t even hurt anyone but was murdered bc someone wasn’t watching their kid,” another person wrote. “Zoos are truly evil places all abt a buck.”
A change.org petition calling for the child’s parents to be held responsible had reached more than 170,000 signatures by Monday.
Others came to the defense of the child’s mother, with one woman who said she witnessed the incident writing on Facebook: “This was an open exhibit! Which means the only thing separating you from the gorillas, is a 15 ish foot drop and a moat and some bushes!
“This mother was not negligent and the zoo did an awesome job handling the situation! Especially since that had never happened before! Thankful for the zoo and their attempts and my thoughts and prayers goes out to this boy, his mother and his family.”
Animal rights activists and Harambe’s fans reportedly planned to come together to remember the gorilla during a vigil on Monday.
Police in Cincinnati said the mother had not been charged, but that charges could eventually be sought by the Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney.