Jane Goodall has weighed in with an empathetic message for Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard, following criticism of the zoo's decision to shoot an endangered gorilla after a child fell into the animal's enclosure.
"I feel so sorry for you, having to try to defend something which you may well disapprove of," the British primatologist wrote to Maynard in a letter dated Tuesday that was shared by her Jane Goodall Institute.
The letter reads:
I feel so sorry for you, having to try to defend something which you may well disapprove of. I tried to see exactly what was happening -- it looks as though the gorilla was putting an arm around the child -- like the female who rescued and returned the child to the Chicago exhibit.
Anyway, whatever, it is a devastating loss to the zoo, and to the gorillas.
How did the others react? Are they allowed to see, and express grief, which seems to be so important.
Feeling for you,
A 3-year-old boy crawled into the gorilla enclosure and caught the eye of a 17-year-old western lowland silverback named Harambe on Saturday. Harambe was ultimately fatally shot by the zoo's staff after he picked up the boy.
Maynard said at a press conference that the zoo did not use tranquilizers because the drugs would take too long to take effect.
Maynard said while the zoo was "devastated" by Harambe's death, "we were very glad the little boy is OK. That is one happy thing in a dangerous and bad story."
"Naturally, we did not take the shooting of Harambe lightly, but that child's life was in danger," Maynard added. "And people who question that, or are Monday morning quarterbacks or second-guessers don't understand that you can't take a risk with a silverback gorilla."
In her letter, Goodall referred to a famous incident from 1996 at the Chicago-area Brookfield Zoo that had vaguely similar circumstances -- but a much different ending.
At that time, a 3-year-old boy fell into the zoo's gorilla enclosure and was knocked unconscious. Binti Jua, an 8-year-old western lowland gorilla, gently scooped up the boy and tended to him before carrying him to the exit door where zookeepers intervened.
Zookeepers told CBS Chicago at the time that it was fortunate the child was unconscious when he fell, as the gorilla may have perceived a distressed or crying child as threatening.