A video has been all over the internet today. It shows a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo in contact with a 4 year old child who had fallen into the enclosure. The gorilla was shot and killed. The gorilla in question was considered "critically endangered" but the Endangered Species Act does not apply if the death of the animal in question was a result of self-defense. That being said, the gorilla was treating the boy in approximately the same way it would one of its own children and it was unlikely that the boy would have been seriously injured. Given that and the fact that there were probably several other ways for the child to have been rescued which would not have involved the death of the gorilla, is there a legal basis for charges to be brought up against the responsible party or could they reasonably argue that it fell under defense?
The relevant (criminal) defence is Sec 11(b)(3) [the Civil defence in Sec 11(a)(iii) is an easier one]:
(3) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, it shall be a defence to prosecution under this subsection if the defendant committed the offense based on a good faith belief that he was acting to protect himself or herself, a member of his or her family, or any other individual, from bodily harm from any endangered or threatened species.
I would say that the defendant could easily demonstrate a "good faith belief that he was acting to ... any other individual, from bodily harm from any endangered or threatened species."
Even if there were other ways to rescue the child other than lethal force to the gorilla they all would have necessitated exposing the child to a longer period of danger, exposing another person to danger or may have had less predictable outcomes (e.g. tranquilisers have an onset time) all of which would be unconscionable.