(CINCINNATI) — The Cincinnati Zoo, which was forced to kill a beloved silverback gorilla after a toddler fell into its enclosure in May, was not in compliance with federal standards for housing primates, a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection found.
The barrier at the Cincinnati Zoo’s Gorilla World was never updated since it was built in 1978, according to the USDA. Prior to the May 28 incident that led to the 17-year-old male gorilla named Harambe being killed, the zoo had never had an issue with the barrier. But after Harambe’s death, it became “apparent” that it was “no longer effective,” according to the USDA, whose report surfaced on Thursday.
Barriers between exhibits and the general public “must restrict public contact from the animals,” said the USDA, which began conducting an investigation into the facility the day the boy fell into the enclosure.
In response to the findings of the USDA inspection report, the Cincinnati Zoo said it “reaffirms its longstanding commitment to the well-being of the resident animals and the safety of those inspired to view and conserve them.”
“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,” the zoo said in a statement.
In a letter to the Cincinnati Zoo’s board of directors, Dr. Elizabeth Goldentyer, the director of the USDA’s Animal Welfare Operations, wrote, “Animal Care recognizes and appreciates the swift and comprehensive actions taken in response to this incident, both the immediate response during the incident and the overall review of barrier systems throughout the facility.”
Goldentyer also acknowledged that the barrier system at Gorilla World was considered to be in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act during inspections prior to the incident and had performed “admirably for many years.”
The barrier was modified after the incident to “reassure the public,” the zoo said.
On Labor Day weekend, a 3-year-old boy fell 15 feet into the enclosure after crawling through a stainless steel barrier. The 400-pound Harambe was acting “erratically” when he was shot and killed by zoo staff, Thane Maynard, the director of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, said at the time.
The toddler’s family said that while Harambe’s death was a tragic accident, the findings of the inspection report “do not change anything” for them and that they are “thankful” that their child is safe.
“We very much appreciate the quick actions by the Cincinnati Zoo staff, and mourn with them the loss of Harambe,” the family said.
The incident sparked national outrage from animal rights activists and citizens concerned about zoo safety.
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