WASHINGTON • The killing of a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo after a four-year-old boy fell into its enclosure has triggered social media outrage and questions about safety.
The boy slipped through the exhibit's barrier on Saturday afternoon and was dragged around like a toy by a Western lowland gorilla named Harambe.
In videos of the encounter posted on Twitter, a woman can be heard calling to the sobbing child: "Mommy loves you! I'm right here!"
After about 10 minutes, witnesses said, zoo workers shot and killed the animal.
The boy, who was hurt but not severely, was taken to a hospital.
Twitter user StrayanRepublic wrote: "#HARAMBE wasn't dragging him to kill him... he was protecting the child from the threat of screaming tourists. @Xoxjlove @CincinnatiZoo," said the BBC.
Many on social media said Harambe should not have been shot dead as it did not intend to hurt the boy, some using the hashtag #JusticeForHarambe.
More than 78,000 people have signed a special petition calling for the boy's parents to "be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life".
Kenz, another user quoted by the BBC, posted: "#JusticeForHarambe its so sad that an endangered animal had to be put down because of careless parenting."
Ms Brittany Nicely, 29, who was there with her two children, said it was unfair to judge the mother.
"I don't feel like it was neglectful," she said. "She had three other kids that she was with. She had a baby in her arms. It was literally (in) the blink of an eye."
A Facebook page titled Justice For Harambe had more than 3,000 likes by Sunday afternoon.
"If we think it's acceptable to kill a gorilla who has done nothing wrong, I don't think our city should have gorillas," user Manvinder Singh posted.
Another user, Andrue, wrote: "Why don't zoos have instant acting tranquilizer?"
A blog post on the website for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals questioned why it was necessary to kill the gorilla and whether zoos met the needs of such animals.
"A 17-year-old gorilla named Harambe is dead, and a child is in the hospital. Why?" blogger Jennifer O'Connor wrote. "Western lowland gorillas are gentle animals. They don't attack unless they're provoked."
REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES