The decision by The Cincinnati Zoo to kill a 17-year-old gorilla after a 4-year-old boy fell into the enclosure on May 28 is generating widespread debate.
The incident happened at the zoo’s Gorilla World exhibit and involved a 17-year-old, 420 pound gorilla named Harambe, media reports say.
“You heard the splash," witness Kim O’Connor told WLWT. "People are yelling, ‘There’s a boy in the water. There’s a boy in the water."
“I don’t know if the screaming did it or too many people hanging on the edge, if he thought we were coming in, but then he pulled the boy down away further from the big group,” she added.
The boy’s mother was present, but was also responsible for a number of other young children.
“The little boy himself had already been talking about wanting to … get in the water," O'Connor said. "The mother’s like, ‘No, you’re not, no, you’re not.'"
A special response team was called, but O’Connor left before Harambe was shot.
"Unfortunately, we heard it," she said. "We hadn't gotten much outside the gates. We were hoping, hoping, they were just putting him to sleep."
The boy was in the enclosure for approximately 10 minutes. He was treated at hospital and later released.
The zoo said it had no other option in dealing with the situation.
“We stand by our decision,” said zoo director Thane Maynard, The Associated Press reported.
"Justice for Harambe," a Facebook page to raise awareness of Harambe's death was started, and its creator believes the parents should be held accountable.
“I do think there's a degree of responsibility they have to be held to,” Kate Villanueva, a mother of two who created the page, told AP. “You have to be watching your children at all times.”
A vigil was organized outside the zoo in memory of Harambe, who turned 17 just one day before his death.
"People can shout at the parents and people can shout at the zoo," Anthony Seta, an animal rights activist in Cincinnati, said. "The fact is that a gorilla that just celebrated his birthday has been killed."
Some have called for a protest at the zoo on June 5.
The zoo's director said visitors have expressed interest in learning how to support gorilla conservation and have been leaving flowers at the exhibit in the days since his death.
“This is very emotional and people have expressed different feelings,” Maynard added. “Not everyone shares the same opinion and that's OK. But we all share the love for animals.”