Cleveland Zoo visitors say it's parents' responsibility to watch kids

Marcita Sims holds her grandson's hand tightly at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Marcita Sims holds her grandson's hand tightly at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Published: May. 30, 2016 at 7:41 PM EDT|Updated: May. 31, 2016 at 12:02 AM EDT
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Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (Source: WOIO)
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (Source: WOIO)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Several visitors at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo spoke to Cleveland 19 on Monday, saying that they think the mother of a little boy who wandered into the gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo is the one responsible for the death of a 17-year-old gorilla.

Marcita Sims held on to her grandson's hand tightly Monday, telling Cleveland 19 that it's her responsibility to make sure he's safe.

"I've been holding his hand all day," said Sims. "You have to hold on to them because they will get away from you, they get away."

Sims said she thinks if the mother of the boy in the Cincinnati incident had done something as simple as holding onto his hand, the 450-pound endangered western lowland gorilla named Harambe would still be alive.

"I think that the parent was very irresponsible and she should, have better hold on her child and that gorilla would be alive today," said Sims.  "I feel very bad for that gorilla."

Jessica Taylor, who brought her young child to the zoo, echoed the same sentiment, and said she's not concerned for her young daughter's safety at the Cleveland Zoo.

"I'm not concerned, like I said, I think it's up to the parents," said Taylor. "I told my husband this morning I said we won't have to worry about that we have four adults with us constantly watching her."

The gorilla exhibit in Cleveland is separated from visitors by a glass wall, but even if it wasn't the parents who spoke to Cleveland 19 said their kids' safety is their responsibility.

"You blame the poor animal - it's not his fault. That's where he lived," said Sims. 

It was just more than a year ago that a Columbus area mom allegedly dangled her two year old son over the cheetah exhibit at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.  The boy fell in, and his parents went in after to rescue him. In that incident, the cheetahs didn't attack, the boy was rescued, and the boy's mom was criminally charged.  The mom in that case, Michelle Schwab, plead guilty to misdemeanor aggravated trespassing.

Director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, Jack Hanna, supported the Cincinnati Zoo's action and decision to kill the gorilla Saturday, since the gorilla could have seriously injured or killed the little boy.

"Thank goodness a human being is alive today because of the decision the Cincinnati Zoo made so you have human life and animal life how the child got in there is none of my business but we can't just build 15 foot walls around everything in the zoological park," said Hanna.

He didn't condemn the mother's actions, but did say parents need to play their role in keeping their kids safe.

"My advice to parents, the zoo is one of the safest place folks you can go in the entire world to visit a zoological park and I'll put that up against anything. It's one of the safest places in the entire world to go, just watch your kids," said Hanna.

During a press conference Monday afternoon, Thane Maynard, the director of the Cincinnati Zoo said that police were on scene Saturday and did not cite anyone. He said that the USDA will investigate the situation, and inspects the zoo twice a year on a regular basis. Maynard repeatedly would not point fingers or blame the parents of the child who got into the gorilla exhibit.

 "This is the only time this has happened in 143 years," said Maynard. "We stand by our decision and we'd make the same call today."  

Maynard said that since endangered animals aren't bought or sold there is no monetary value that can be attached to Harambe. He said that the emotional toll on his staff has been immense.

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