Why zoo officials couldn't sedate Harambe, the gorilla who was killed after a 4-year-old entered his enclosure

Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo is pictured in this undated handout photo provided by Cincinnati Zoo. REUTERS/Cincinnati Zoo/Handout via ReutersHarambe, a 17-year-old gorilla at the Cincinnati ZooThomson Reuters

On Saturday, Harambe, a 17-year-old male gorilla, was shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo after a 4-year-old boy slipped into his enclosure. Harambe was a Western lowland silverback gorilla, a critically endangered species.

The death of Harambe has caused outrage among animal rights activists. Many have raised the question: Did the zoo make the right decision in killing the gorilla?

The alternative to killing Harambe would have been shooting him with a sedative. But zoo officials say that would have only made the situation worse. The tranquilizer could have taken up to ten minutes to work, they said. Meanwhile, the boy would be put in even more danger.

He was "clearly disoriented" and "acting erratically," Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard said at a news conference. While the rest of the gorillas in the enclosure cleared the area thanks to special calls made by zookeepers, Harambe did not respond.

Shooting him with a tranquilizer, Maynard said, could have taken up to ten minutes to take effect and would have only caused more panic in the animal.

"You can't take a risk with a silverback gorilla," said Maynard. "We're talking about animal that with one hand can take a coconut and crush it."

Although tranquilizing Harambe was not an option, critics still say that the zoo could have done more to draw the gorilla away from the boy rather than killing him.

"When gorilla or other apes have things they shouldn't have, keepers will negotiate with them, bring food, their favorite treats, pineapple or some kind of fruit that they don't know and negotiate with them," Ian Redmond, chairman of The Gorilla Organization told CNN.

Some witnesses even speculated that at first Harambe appeared to be protecting the boy, only growing agitated as people started screaming.

Many animal behaviorists have stood behind the zoo's decision. Wildlife expert Jack Hanna told ABC's "Good Morning America" that there was "no doubt" in his mind that "that child would not be here today if they hadn't made that decision."

"We stand by our decision," Maynard said. "We'd make the same decision today."

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