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Great Plains Zoo Director Supports Cincinnati Zoo's Actions In Recent Situation With Gorilla

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The Cincinnati zoo is deflecting criticism for killing a gorilla last weekend.  The animal had a four-year-old child in its grasp—the toddler had gotten past several barriers and tumbled into the gorilla exhibit.  The Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls is prepared to take measures to keep visitors safe.

Elizabeth Whealey is Executive Director of the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls.  Whealey says it’s unfortunate the gorilla died, but she recognizes workers there had to make an immediate decision.

Whealey says, “In the case of what happened in Cincinnati, I’m sure there was a decision made on whether they could tranquilize the animal, or whether they would have to take that shot.  And the amount of time it would take to bring down an animal that large, and the fact that it would startle that animal when it went in, really didn’t leave them any option to tranquilize the animal.”

Whealey says workers go through many drills to cover such situations—and also work on what to do if a disaster strikes or animals get loose.  She says zoos are very safe places to visit, as long as visitors respect boundaries placed at the exhibits for their safety. 

According to Whealey, “We spend so much time on exhibit design—making sure our exhibits keep animals in, and keep people out.  We have multiple barriers, so we have fencing that encloses the animal exhibit—but we also have visitor barriers that clearly delineate where visitors should be.  If visitors make a bad decision, it really isn’t because of something they didn’t understand.”    

Whealey says each situation has various protocols in place—and if it means a person’s life is in danger, workers will kill the animal involved they the feel they have to.