On Saturday afternoon, a 4-year-old boy fell 10 feet into the zoo’s gorilla exhibit.
Two female gorillas in the exhibit were immediately recalled, but the male, named Harambe, managed to make his way toward the boy and began picking up him and dragging him around, according to a Cincinnati Zoo statement.
To save the boy, Harambe was fatally shot by the zoo's Dangerous Animal Response Team.
However, many people have criticized the zoo's decision to kill the animal, rather than tranquilize it.
Speaking to reporters Monday, zoo director Thane Maynard said staff had no choice but to kill the animal in order to save the boy.
“We’re the ones who took this loss and we made a very difficult call in handling it,” he said.
Maynard described Harambe as “clearly agitated, clearly disoriented.”
“The idea of waiting to shoot it with a hypodermic would not have been a good idea,” he said, adding that even an anesthetic would have yielded a delayed response.
“The risk was due to the power of that animal,” he said of the 420-pound gorilla.
In the zoo’s 143-year history, there had never before been a situation in which zoo staff had to kill an animal, Maynard said. There had been an incident, however, in which a keeper lost an arm to a polar bear.
There is no formal memorial service scheduled for Harambe, whose body is still at the zoo, but Maynard said that staff had come together on Monday “to share memories and talk about it, and cry a little bit.”
Harambe’s sperm has also been preserved, which means his death is not also the end of his gene pool. Maynard said that he and his lineage are part of an ongoing breeding program for the endangered animal.
Ron Magill, communications director for the Miami Metro Zoo, said that he would have made the same call to kill the animal.
“I don't think that gorilla had any intention of hurting that child but the bottom line is he was frightened, he was agitated, his strength is unbelievable,” he told CNN.
“You can see the way he whipped that child through the water like a rag doll. Just the whipping, the child could whip his head against the concrete. It could have been over in a second.”