- The Washington Times - Friday, November 18, 2016

The Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla exhibit wasn’t in compliance with federal standards when a small child fell into it earlier this year during a now-infamous incident that led to the death of Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla, a government report released this week suggests.

Harambe was shot and killed on May 28, 2016 after a 3-year-old boy entered the zoo’s “Gorilla World” exhibit after bypassing the barrier meant to separate the public from the primates. The child survived the encounter relatively unscathed, despite being dragged by the gorilla for several minutes up and down a ladder and in and out of water.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted a focused inspection of the event the following week and later determined that the exhibit wasn’t in compliance at the time of the incident, according to an write-up of the investigation obtained Thursday by the Associated Press.

The peculiarly worded inspection report stated that the barrier separating Gorilla World from the public was constructed in 1978 and managed to stand nearly four decades without an incident prior to the May 28 encounter.

Yet weeks earlier, the zoo was found to have been compliant in an April inspection. The isolated May 28 incident appears to have been all that was needed to conclude that the Cincinnati’s Zoo’s barriers were not sufficient.

“Fixed public exhibits housing nonhuman primates must have a barrier between the primary enclosure and the public in order to restrict physical contact between the public and the nonhuman primates,” the inspection report said.

“It became apparent on May 28 that the barrier was no longer effective,” USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa told AP. “The Cincinnati Zoo took swift and comprehensive corrective action in response.”

Gorilla World’s barriers were updated shortly after the May 28 incident, according to the inspection report. The zoo replaced the previous fence with a taller one that is covered in nylon mesh, and also installed multiple surveillance cameras to monitor the area. The exhibit’s previous barrier, a fence composed of two cables, contained enough slack that it could have been “manipulated to an eight-inch gap,” the report found.

“In its 38-year history, the barrier system at Gorilla World has always been found compliant during USDA inspections, including one conducted in April of 2016. Following the incident this May, we modified the barrier to reassure the public and our visitors,” the zoo said in a statement.

“We remain committed to visitor and animal safety and will continue to work with the USDA and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to ensure that our exhibits meet or exceed standards,” said Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard.

The federal government is still investigating the incident and could chose to impose fines or take other disciplinary action pending the results of that probe, the AP reported.

Family members of the boy who fell into Gorilla World responded to the report’s release by applauding the zoo for its swift response on May 28.

“We are thankful to the Lord that our child is safe and well,” Gail Myers, a spokeswoman for the family, said in a statement to the AP. “We very much appreciate the quick actions by the Cincinnati Zoo staff, and mourn with them the loss of Harambe.”

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