Parents of Boy Rescued From Gorilla Investigated: Accident Or Negligence?

The killing of Harambe, a 400-pound gorilla, to save a little boy who fell into the animal’s enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo has triggered outrage. Some say the boy’s mother should be charged with child endangerment. Others want the zoo held responsible for the animal’s death.

Terrified mom calls 911

A decision whether or not to charge the 32-year-old mother of the young boy who fell into the gorilla enclosure is pending. But sources close to the investigation say the police have wrapped up their investigation without recommending charges, according to a report at

On a recently released recording, the mother can be heard frantically calling 911. “Hi. My son fell in the zoo at the gorillas,” said the panicked mother of the three-year old to a dispatch operator, according to a transcript of the call. “The Cincinnati Zoo, my son fell in with the gorilla. There’s a male gorilla standing over him. I need someone to contact the zoo please.”

 According to the recording, the mother can be heard calling to her son, “Be calm, be calm! Be calm, be calm.” Then, “He’s dragging my son! I can’t watch this,” she told the 911 operator. “I cannot. I can’t watch.”

The police investigation looked into the parents’ actions leading up to the incident, but not the operation of the zoo, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA will investigate the incident separately for violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

The boy suffered minor injuries and the gorilla was shot and killed, reportedly to ensure the boy’s safety. That has led some to blame the mother. Others blame the zoo, since the child managed to get around its safety barriers.

Experts weigh in

Jane Goodall, one of world’s most prominent primatologists, recently sent a short email relaying her sympathy to the zoo’s director, Thane Maynard, regarding the shooting of the gorilla.

Goodall is known for her decades of studying wild chimpanzees in Tanzania. She writes that she feels sorry for Maynard having to defend a shooting that he “may disapprove of.” Goodall also says that it looked as though the gorilla was putting an arm around the child and calls it “a devastating loss.” Goodall went on to ask if the other gorillas had a chance to express grief, which she feels is necessary.

Jack Hanna, a zookeeper and TV personality, also gave his opinion regarding the incident, speaking to Inside Edition: “You don’t have seconds or minutes to make a decision like this. When the animal blows, it is like lightning. I will bet my life on this, that that child would have been — I don’t even want to tell you what would have happened,” said Hanna. “The zoo had no chance whatsoever. The boy should thank God every single day of his life. This gorilla was not happy.”

Negligence or an unfortunate accident?

It’s easy judge when emotions run high. But how many people have lost sight of their child, if only for a moment? Terrible things can happen in a moment. The scenario that unfolded that day at the zoo was horrible and unexpected, and while no one wanted the western lowland gorilla, named Harambe, dead, clearly it was the right decision — a decision that saved the life of a child.

Was the mother negligent? A petition called Justice for Harambe  has collected more than 400,000 signatures calling for the parents to be investigated. But I believe it was an unfortunate accident that serves to remind us, once again, of the dangers that we and wild animals can face when they are kept in captivity.

—Katherine Marko

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