The Cincinnati Zoo is defending its controversial decision to shoot and kill an endangered male lowland gorilla after a 4-year-old boy fell into his enclosure Saturday, putting himself in serious danger.
The incident was captured on video and has outraged animal lovers around the world.
It shows the gorilla, named Harambe, dragging the boy through a shallow moat filled with water. Several times, Harambe looked to be gently touching the boy and stood him up on both feet as if he was trying to protect him.
But just as suddenly, he pulled the boy through the moat to a different part of the pen with the boy's head hitting the concrete. Harambe had control of the boy for at least 10 minutes before the zoo's Dangerous Animal Response Team shot him to death.
Many animal lovers say killing the huge 17-year-old primate was unnecessary. But zoo director Thane Maynard said Monday that officials believed they had no choice. With his pen surrounded by screaming and excited people, Maynard said, the gorilla was clearly agitated, disoriented and acting erratically.
Maynard called Harambe "unpredictable" and said tranquilizing the 181-kilogram ape would have taken too long. He described lowland gorillas like Harambe as dangerously strong, with arms as large as a man's leg and hands powerful enough to crush a coconut.
Maynard said this is the first time this kind of thing has happened in the zoo's 143-year history. He said the barriers around Harambe's enclosure were adequate. It is still unclear how the child got past those barriers.
The boy who tumbled into the gorilla pen was remarkably unhurt. He is back home after spending several hours in a hospital. His family thanked the zoo for its speedy reaction to the crisis and said they understand the zoo's grief at having to kill an endangered and beloved animal.
Meanwhile, social media is buzzing with outrage over the death of Harambe.
More than 200,000 people have signed a petition on the Change.org website.
Another online petition — called "Justice for Harambe" — has attracted 165,000 signatures from people wanting the boy's parents to be charged with negligence.
A Facebook page also called "Justice for Harambe" had more than 64,000 "likes" as of late Monday.
Harambe was a western lowland gorilla.
Such gorillas can be found in the dense rain forests of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea. Their population has declined by more than 60 percent over the past 20 to 25 years because of poaching and disease, according to the World Wildlife Fund.