Gorilla killing: Cincinnati Zoo exhibit to reopen with new barrier

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The gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo is set to reopen to the public Tuesday, 10 days after handlers killed one of its inhabitants when a 3-year-old boy wriggled into the enclosure.

The exhibit will have a new barrier meant to make it more difficult for members of the public to get into the habitat, zoo officials said.

The reopening comes a day after prosecutors announced they would not file charges against the boy’s mother in the May 28 incident.

Zoo officials shot and killed a 450-pound gorilla named Harambe after the boy climbed over the previous barrier and through thick bushes before dropping into the moat surrounding the enclosure, according to zoo officials.

The gorilla grabbed the boy and pulled him across the moat through the water. Zoo officials who feared for the child’s life made the decision to shoot the animal.

The new barrier will feature a 42-inch tall railing with solid wood beams at the top and bottom linked by a knotted rope netting, the zoo said last week.

“Our exhibit goes above and beyond standard safety requirements, but in light of what happened, we have modified the outer public barrier to make entry even more difficult,” said Thane Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo, in a statement.

The zoo has staunchly defended its decision to shoot Harambe as necessary to protect the child, but has faced criticism from some who argued it could have tranquilized Harambe or did too little to prevent the tragedy in the first place.

Others blamed the child’s mother for failing to supervise him adequately. An online petition seeking charges received more than 500,000 signatures.

One witness said she overheard the boy telling his mother he was going to get into the moat.

“The little boy himself had already been talking about wanting to go in, go in, get in the water and his mother is like, ‘No you’re not, no you’re not,’ ” said Kimberley Ann Perkins O’Connor.

The mother admonished her son to behave before becoming distracted by other children with her, O’Connor said.

“Her attention was drawn away for seconds, maybe a minute, and then he was up and in before you knew it, she said.

In announcing his decision not to seek charges in the case, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters said Monday that there was no evidence the child’s mother failed to act appropriately.

“She had three other kids with her and turned her back. … And if anyone doesn’t believe a 3-year-old can scamper off very quickly, they’ve never had kids.”

Deters said the zoo lost “a beautiful animal” that was beloved in the community, “but it’s still an animal. It does not equate human life.”

Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums have launched investigations into the Harambe episode.

The USDA, which inspects the zoo annually, will look into whether the facility was in compliance with a federal law that monitors the treatment of animals in research and exhibition. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is the group that accredits zoos.

“In the case of this incident, which involved a child and a critically endangered animal, our collective goal is to take steps to assure it doesn’t happen again,” Kris Vehrs, the interim president and CEO of the zoo association, said in a statement.

By Michael Pearson

CNN’s Madison Park, Holly Yan, Faith Karimi and Steven