Cincinnati Zoo to re-open gorilla exhibit with higher barrier
CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Zoo said Thursday it will re-open its gorilla exhibit next week with a higher, reinforced barrier after a 3-year-old boy got into the enclosure, leading to the fatal shooting of a male gorilla.
Zoo spokeswoman Michelle Curley said the outer barrier will now be 42 inches high — a half-foot taller than before — with solid wood beams on top and at the bottom, plus knotted rope netting at the bottom.
The zoo said there had been no earlier breaches in Gorilla World’s 38-year history and that the previous barrier had passed multiple inspections by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which accredits zoos.
“Our exhibit goes above and beyond standard safety requirements, but in light of what happened, we have modified the outer public barrier to make entry even more difficult,” zoo director Thane Maynard said in a statement.
Meanwhile, a prosecutor reviewing the police investigation of the case said he’ll announce a decision on charges Monday.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters has been reviewing the actions of the parents of the boy, who fell about 15 feet Saturday into a shallow moat after apparently climbing over the barrier. A special response team shot and killed the gorilla, 17-year-old Harambe, after concluding the boy’s life was at stake.
Legal experts have told The Associated Press a prosecution in the case seems unlikely. Deters will hold a Monday afternoon news conference, said spokeswoman Julie Wilson.
A Cincinnati police report identifies the boy’s mother as Michelle Gregg, 32, who works at a preschool near Cincinnati. The child’s father isn’t named in the report, and it’s not clear whether he was at the zoo Saturday.
The boy’s family has said he is doing well at home after being treated at a hospital Saturday evening. Police said he had scrapes to on his head and knee.
“The child was alert and talking,” the police report stated.
A spokeswoman said the family requests privacy and has no comment on the investigation.
University of Dayton law professor Lori Shaw said child endangering cases are complicated and fact-specific. She said Ohio law requires that the defendant be found “reckless” and to have exposed a child to “substantial risk,” or a strong possibility of harm.
Police released 911 tapes on Wednesday highlighting the confusion and panic in the moments when the boy plunged into the gorilla exhibit.
“He’s dragging my son! I can’t watch this!” a woman says in the 911 call on Saturday. As she pleads for help, she shouts at her son repeatedly: “Be calm!”
A record of police calls shows nine minutes passed between the first emergency call about the boy falling into the enclosure and when the child was safe.
The police report states that witnesses said the gorilla initially appeared to be protecting the child, but after onlookers began screaming, he became “agitated and scared” and began dragging the child.
The boy’s family has expressed gratitude to the zoo for protecting his life.