CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A 17-year-old Western Lowland Gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical was shot dead after dragging a child who wandered into the animal's exhibit Saturday.
The 3-year-old boy was taken to Cincinnati Children's Hospital. Authorities described his injuries as serious and non-life threatening. The zoo announced he was released from the hospital on Saturday night.
Zoo Director Thane Maynard said the boy crawled through a barrier and fell about 15-feet into the exhibit's moat around 4 p.m. Fire officials at the scene witnessed the gorilla "violently dragging and throwing the child," according to a release from Cincinnati Fire Department.
The boy was conscious through the entire 10-minute ordeal.
"The reason the tranquilizing was not chosen is that in an agitated situation, which the male was, it may take quite a while for a tranquilizer to take effect," said Maynard.
The Dangerous Animal Response Team shot and killed the 400-pound gorilla with a long rifle after determining the boy's life could be at risk, Maynard said. The child was in between the gorilla's legs at the time of the shot, fire officials said.
Maynard claimed the boy was never under attack, but that his safety was at risk. He said shooting the animal was the right decision.
"We are heartbroken about losing Harambe, but a child's life was in danger and a quick decision had to be made by our Dangerous Animal Response Team," Maynard said.
It appeared the boy crawled underneath the railing of the 38-year-old Gorilla World exhibit. Maynard said the child then made it through wired fencing, over the wall and into the water moat.
Zoo officials said the two female gorillas in the exhibit were recalled immediately, but the third, a male, remained in the yard with the child.
"We just heard a child screaming so when we went over there we knew he was being dragged by the gorilla," a witness told FOX19 NOW. "And then gorilla took him to one end of his habitat and then the little boy started screaming again and then the gorilla dragged him back again."
The family of the boy who fell into the enclosure issued a statement saying they are thankful their child is safe and extended their condolences to the zoo staff.
"We are so thankful to the Lord that our child is safe," the family wrote. "We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff. We know that this was a very difficult decision for them, and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla. We hope that you will respect our privacy at this time."
The male gorilla, named Harambe, arrived at the Cincinnati Zoo last year. Maynard said Lowland Gorillas are very endangered animals.
On Sunday, PETA Primatologist Julia Gallucci responded to the killing of Harambe.
"Yet again, captivity has taken an animal's life. The gorilla enclosure should have been surrounded by a secondary barrier between the humans and the animals to prevent exactly this type of incident," Gallucci said.
Gorilla World will be closed until further notice. This was the first breach of the exhibit, the zoo announced.
"The safety of our visitors and our animals is our number one priority," Maynard said. "The barrier that we have in place has been effective for 38 years. Nevertheless, we will study this incident as we work toward continuous improvement for the safety of our visitors and animals."