Is anyone to blame for the tragic death of Harambe the gorilla?

Police are now investigating the parents of the child who wandered into Harambe's enclosure at the Cincinnati zoo, which is now under investigation by the USDA.

Who is to blame for the death of Harambe, a 400-pound silverback gorilla shot Saturday by a dangerous animal response team at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden? Was it the parents of the three-year-old boy who bested the barriers and splashed into the enclosure? Was it the zoo? Was it the dangerous-animal response team?

These are the questions circling this tragedy, as police launch an investigation into the parents' actions and the US Department of Agriculture announces it will be exploring potential violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

Yet there is also the possibility that the investigations will lead to the conclusion that, within the parameters of this incident, blame is hard to assign.

"Playing the blame game just isn't going to get us anywhere," Marc Bekoff, a renowned ethologist and a fellow for the Animal Behavior Society, told The Christian Science Monitor's Henry Gass earlier this week.

Nevertheless, with the outcry this incident has generated, the authorities are keen to make certain that all avenues are explored. Police will therefore be investigating the parents' actions leading up to the incident, before conferring with prosecutors to determine whether charges should be filed.

By all accounts, however, the child was not without his parents for any extended period of time, making it unlikely that charges of child endangering would be applicable.

"The mother was standing next to a zoo exhibit and lost track of her child for perhaps a minute or so," Ohio State University criminal law professor Ric Simmons told the Associated Press. "That has happened to almost every parent in the world in a public place."

Indeed, Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard was also keen to avoid apportioning blame, telling reporters he was "not a big finger-pointer," The Cincinnati Enquirer reports.

Yet the zoo itself is also under scrutiny, as the USDA launches its own investigation. Earlier inspections have uncovered problems at the zoo, including an incident in March where polar bears escaped into a behind-the-scenes hallway. Inspectors warned that visitors could have been "at great risk for injury, harm or death."

But Gorilla World itself was given a clean bill of health by inspectors just two months ago.

As for the actions of the zoo's reaction team, some critics wonder why they chose to kill, rather than tranquilize. But their reasoning was that tranquilizers might take too long to take effect, and the child was in immediate peril.

"It's unprecedented," Mr. Maynard said, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. "We have never had to kill a dangerous animal in the middle of an emergency situation. The zoo's been here 143 years, so that's saying a lot."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.