(CN) — As the Cincinnati Zoo defends shooting its gorilla to protect a young boy, an animal rights group filed a formal complaint on Tuesday claiming that the crisis could have been averted if the primate’s pen complied with federal law.
Everyone from television pundits to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has chimed in over the killing of 17-year-old silverback gorilla Harambe after a 3-year-old child fell into his pit Saturday.
A bystander’s video of the incident has gathered more than 3.6 million views on YouTube, and the viral sensation has fueled questions over the zoo’s reaction and the parents’ care of the boy.
Hamilton County prosecutors confirmed a criminal investigation into the incident, and the executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now has added his voice to the chorus.
A Cincinnati-based advocacy group, Stop Animal Exploitation Now is headed by animal health technician Michael Budkie.
In a 2-page complaint filed Monday with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s animal welfare office, Budkie says one thing is certain from the incident: Harambe was not held in a pen that complied with the Animal Welfare Act.
One subclause of the act mandates that a perimeter fence must be “of sufficient height to keep unwanted species out.”
“Clearly, the barrier/perimeter fence employed at this enclosure was not sufficient to keep people out of the enclosure to protect either the visitors to the Zoo or the animal in the enclosure,” the letter states. “This enclosure must be constructed in such a way as to eliminate the possibility that a member of the public can interact with this animal.
“The failure of the Cincinnati Zoo to adequately construct this enclosure to protect both the public and the animal held prisoner there is a clear and fatal violation of the Animal Welfare Act, and must be met with the maximum penalty allowable under the law.”
Budkie’s group says that penalty calls for a $10,000 fine per infraction.
Calling the zoo a repeat offender, Budkie notes that inspectors cited it twice during routine inspections for such violations.
Just two months ago on March 16, polar bears had to be darted after being spotted in the keeper area. The inspection report attributed the incident to keeper error, and said that it could have put the animals and humans at risk.
In another report from Nov. 3, 2014, inspectors ordered the zoo to immediately repair the deteriorating and warped wood in the outdoor enclosures holding its Eastern black and white colobus monkeys.
Budkie charged that the zoo had put the gorilla and the public at risk.
“The Cincinnati Zoo failed both the public and Harambe by maintaining an enclosure which allowed a member of the public to gain access to a potentially dangerous animal,” Budkie said Tuesday a statement. “Whenever wild animals are maintained outside their natural habitat they always lose. Gorillas and all other wild animals evolved to live in very specific environments, not in captivity.”
A spokesman for the zoo has not returned an email request for comment.