The news of a gorilla killed at a Cincinnati zoo has captured the attention of the nation. People are weighing in on how they feel it should have been handled, and are placing blame everywhere from parents of the child who entered the exhibit to zoo officials.

While the North Carolina Zoo has no immediate plans to alter their existing policies, the staff is looking at them closely and is open to making changes if needed.

Current policy is that if a visitor has an encounter with a non-dangerous animal, the goal is separation. NC Zoo in Asheboro's Curator of Mammals Jennifer Ireland says if the animal is dangerous, like a lion, they will “dispatch” the animal, meaning to kill quickly. Their staff conducts emergency event drills several times a year to prepare for events like this.

“If we find that the human's life is at risk, it's our policy to dispatch the animal. We certainly would come prepared to dispatch the animal,” says Ireland. “Our weapons team members will go to our weapons cabinets, grab our weapons, and have them with us at the exhibit.”

Opponents to this type of policy suggest tranquilizers in lieu of more aggressive measures. But according to Ireland, while that is an option, that may cause more harm than good.

“In Cincinnati, tranquilizer probably would not have been the best option. You have to imagine the gorilla is pretty stressed out already...and all of a sudden he gets hit with a dart - that hurts. His hormones and testosterone are really going, making the tranquilizer harder to work - ten minutes or more - and now you've agitated him.”

NC Zoo is the third largest in the U.S. with nearly 1,500 acres of land. Because of its sprawling nature, they have safety team members all over the park - 16 in total. Ireland says there are weapons strategically placed around our zoo in dangerous animal areas, so “we're more likely to have one nearby if we need it.”

In smaller city zoos, it is actually local law enforcement that has the authority to fire on an animal if deemed necessary. But with a remote, large and rural zoo, that response time would not be quick enough.

“For each individual event, there's a person deemed a ‘capture coordinator,' and we also have an ‘incident commander.' The ‘capture coordinator' makes the decision to dispatch the animal.”

Ireland adds that every situation of this nature is handled on a case-by-case basis.


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