BROOKFIELD, Ill. -- As a mother gorilla plays with her baby at Brookfield Zoo’s tropical world, everyone wants to get a closer look. But as we saw in Cincinnati, getting too close was deadly for Harambe the gorilla.
Brookfield Zoo had its own incident in 1996 that turned out much different. Binti Jua carried a boy to safety after he slipped away from his mother and climbed through a barrier. The 8-year-old lowland gorilla picked the boy up around his waist and carried him to a door where rescuers waited. The video of that maternal act made worldwide headlines.
The incident in Cincinnati was much different, with worldwide outcry over the killing of Harambe. Zoo officials believed the 3-year-old boy who climbed in and fell was in danger. How the boy got in is unclear. The boy’s family is now being investigated by Cincinnati police.
Bill Zeigler, Brookfield Zoo’s senior vice president of animal programs, says the zoo’s exhibits are always being updated and monitored for safety.
“We have smooth walls, and where we have fencing you’ll notice … there’s little space in between any of the barriers at all where small children might be able to get through,” Zeigler said.
Having a smooth wall doesn’t give a child the chance to climb up. There’s no place to put your foot. And it would be very difficult to climb through the fence. A child would have to go over. There’s a 25-foot drop on the other side to make sure the animals can’t get out either. If there’s an incident, the first thing is to clear the area, and call in the incident response team.
There are signs all over the gorilla exhibit. But we saw many people who don’t follow the rules. Zeigler says it’s the adult guardian and the zoo’s responsibility to keep everyone safe.
The family of the boy who fell in the exhibit in Cincinnati released a statement today saying the boy is doing fine and that people have been asking to send donations to them. They said to send that money to the Cincinnati Zoo in Harambe's name.