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#JusticeForHarambe: Gorilla killing sparks social media outrage

Harambe the gorilla. (Cincinnati Zoo / MGN)

Animal rights activists and animal lovers worldwide are not only mourning the death of an endangered gorilla killed at the Cincinnati Zoo Saturday after a 3-year-old boy fell into his exhibit, but also expressing outrage at the negligence they believe caused his death.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Critics say the child's parents should've been watching him more closely, the enclosure's barriers were inadequate, and the gorilla didn't belong in captivity in the first place.

According to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Harambe was a silverback gorilla who had been at the facility since September 2014. He had just celebrated his 17th birthday on Friday.

The zoo maintains killing Harambe was its only option. Zoo Director Thane Maynard said in a statement Sunday:

"We are heartbroken about losing Harambe, but a child's life was in danger and a quick decision had to be made by our Dangerous Animal Response Team. Our first response was to call the gorillas out of the exhibit. The two females complied, but Harambe did not. It is important to note that with the child still in the exhibit, tranquilizing the 450-pound gorilla was not an option. Tranquilizers do not take effect for several minutes and the child was in imminent danger. On top of that, the impact from the dart could agitate the animal and cause the situation to get much worse."

Saturday's incident marked the first time the Gorilla World exhibit had been breached in its 38-year history, according to the statement.

However, the zoo's remorse did little to keep the rising tide of Harambe fans at bay.

PETA is encouraging people to show their support for Harambe by boycotting zoos, and suggesting they instead "choose cruelty-free entertainment. Take a hike in the woods and watch wildlife in their natural habitat."

PETA went on to say captivity was "never acceptable for gorillas" and that a secondary barrier should've been in place around the enclosure.

As word of Harambe's death spread over the Memorial Day weekend, the hashtag #JusticeForHarambe began trending on social media. The boy's mother was largely blamed in the online attacks.


Celebrities joined in on the #JusticeForHarambe discussion.

Singer and actress Katharine McPhee tweeted, "This is why I hate zoos! This is so messed up. This poor gorilla."

Comedian and actor Ricky Gervais wrote on Twitter, "It seems that some gorillas make better parents than some people."

Actress Kaley Cuoco wrote on Instagram: "RIP #harambe Im sure I will get tons of backlash (per usual) I mean let's be honest, I wear the wrong sweatpants and the entire world has something to say about it, but once again , another senseless horrendous animal being killed over people not using their brains. If you watch the footage, you see this gorgeous animal holding that child's hand. Do with that ,what you will. As sad as this makes me, a part of me is happy for that amazing creature doesn't have to live in captivity another day. Bring on the hate!!!!"

A change.org petition titled "Justice for Harambe" has been created in honor of the late gorilla; by mid-afternoon Tuesday just over 360,000 people had signed it. The petition blames the boy's parents for the events leading to Harambe's death:

"This beautiful gorilla lost his life because the boy's parents did not keep a closer watch on the child. We the undersigned believe that the child would not have been able to enter the enclosure under proper parental supervision. Witnesses claim that they heard the child state that he wished to go into the enclosure and was actively trying to breach the barriers. This should have prompted the parents to immediately remove the child from the vicinity ... Please sign this petition to encourage the Cincinnati Zoo, Hamilton County Child Protection Services, and Cincinnati Police Department hold the parents responsible."

On Tuesday Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced the incident was under investigation by the Cincinnati Police Department. He said once the department's review was complete, it would confer with the prosecutor's office regarding possible criminal charges.

Among critics of the boy's parents on social media were other parents sympathetic to what the family is going through.

Vlogger Danielle Murray reminded in a YouTube call for compassion that the zoo incident was an accident that could've happened to any parent.

A post on the blog Suburban Snapshots called "Any One of Us Could Be the Cincinnati Zoo Mom" said:

"The internet lashed out hard and fast at the boy's parents, going on just enough detail to condemn them, and a willful forgetting of any personal experience that would remind them how easily kids evade even the most attentive guardians, how you don't instinctively know which direction to move when your child has suddenly vanished from your side. Many drew a hard line, feeling for the gorilla only, as though compassion were that one-dimensional."

In "An Open Letter to the Mom of the Boy Who Fell in the Gorilla Enclosure," Kara Carrero, host of the "Extremely Good Parenting Podcast," writes:

"I have seen death threats and horrible things said about you. But I know that even the best parents have lost their children. They have lost them in public and it could have been any one of those people calling 'neglect' to have had the exact same thing happen to them. "

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Leake reported from Washington. Follow her on Twitter (@NewsyLindsey) and Like her Facebook page.

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