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Jack Hanna addresses Harambe the gorilla's death

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Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images

As the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden faces a public outcry for killing an adult gorilla after a child made it into the primate’s enclosure, celebrity wildlife expert Jack Hanna has deemed the zoo’s actions appropriate and necessary.

The death occurred Saturday after a 4-year-old boy squeezed through barriers at the Ohio zoo, falling approximately 12 feet into a gorilla exhibit where Harambe, a 450-pound Silverback male, grabbed him. After 15 minutes, zoo officials made the decision to shoot and kill the 17-year-old gorilla as he reportedly held the boy between his legs. The child was rushed to the hospital, where he was later released after being treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Speaking Monday during a segment on ABC’s Good Morning America, Hanna, host of reality TV show Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild and director emeritus of Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, offered insight into the killing of Harambe, arguing that deadly force was necessary in order to save the boy’s life.

“No one loves gorillas more than the Columbus Zoo, the Cincinnati Zoo, and the zoo world. We have given millions of dollars to preserve these animals,” he began, going on to say that commotion from bystanders likely agitated Harambe. “That gorilla was upset. Having worked with these animals for 35 years, I’ve seen them take a green coconut, which you can’t even bust open with a sledgehammer, and squish it… You’re dealing with human life or animal life here, so what is the decision? I think it’s very simple to figure that out.”

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Hanna also said that, contrary to popular belief, tranquilizing the gorilla instead of killing him would have escalated the potential for danger. “Once that dart would go into that beautiful, big Silverback male… what’s he going to do with a child right there? He’s going to jump,” he said. “The power this animal has is beyond comprehension. They’re a magnificent creature. There’s no doubt in my mind that that child would not be here today if they hadn’t made that decision at the Cincinnati Zoo… a dart takes too long. The child would not have a chance.”

The boy’s mother, Michelle Gregg, defended herself and her parenting skills in a since-deleted Facebook post over Memorial Day weekend. “God protected my child until the authorities were able to get to him. My son is safe and was able to walk away with a concussion and a few scrapes… no broken bones or internal injuries,” she wrote. “As a society we are quick to judge how a parent could take their eyes off of their child and if anyone knows me I keep a tight watch on my kids. Accidents happen…”

The boy’s family made a statement to WLWT Monday regarding the incident. “We are so thankful to the Lord that our child is safe. He is home and doing just fine,” the family said. “We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff. We know that this was a very difficult decision for them and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla.”

Backlash, including protests, continue in the days following the occurrence. PETA condemned Harambe’s killing in a post on their website, while a Facebook page, Justice for Harambe, had garnered over 67,000 likes by Monday. A Change.org petition proposing “Harambe’s Law,” which would “hold individuals accountable for actions resulting in harm or death of an animal,” has also amassed thousands of signatures.

Watch Hanna address the controversy surrounding Harambe’s death here.