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?

  • Applying to a human child the level of physical violence normally applied by a male gorilla to his own children will never end well...
    – DJohnM
    May 30, 2016 at 5:35
  • "It was unlikely the boy would have been seriously injured". I think I heard the gorilla was about 450 pound of muscle. There was a huge likelihood of serious injury without the gorilla actually trying to hurt the child, and possibility of instant death if the gorilla got angry or too excited.
    – gnasher729
    May 31, 2016 at 7:54
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    My preferred phrasing of this question: "Let's put an endangered animal on display, and then kill it if a child does something stupid. OK?"
    – feetwet
    Jun 1, 2016 at 1:08

1 Answer 1


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.

  • Or rather, whoever shot the animal could easily assert the good faith belief in (3), full stop. The law does not require that alternatives be considered.
    – feetwet
    Jun 1, 2016 at 1:11

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