Health and Safety in Zoos

The recent shocking events from Cincinnati Zoo in the US concerning the shooting dead of the 17-year old silverback gorilla Harambe have sparked multi-level discussions all around the world.


Leaving aside the highly emotive issue concerning the morality of the actions of the zoo keepers who authorised and carried out the shooting, one has to consider the circumstances leading up to this event. The fact that a small child could, with relative ease get into the great ape’s enclosure – whether he fell in or climbed in – raises questions around the safety of animal enclosures in zoos.

Public safety

All zoos and animal parks in the US must abide by safety rules set down by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration agency. These rules cover everything from providing zoo keepers and animal carers with personal protective equipment where necessary, to the design, size and purpose of each enclosure. For instance, enclosures which contain dangerous animals will be surrounded by safety fencing or dry moat trenches, all designed to prevent animals from escaping and members of the public from getting in. in the UK it is the government agency Defra which sets and oversees ‘Standards of Modern Zoo Practice.’

Rhino in Zoo

In both countries and in responsible zoos in other parts of the world, the safety and welfare of animals, keepers and visitors is catered for by hundreds of pages of regulations. The problem is that incidents keep occurring whereby people manage to get into animal enclosures and these invariably end in tragedy.

Harambe’s death not an isolated incident

The death of Harambe the gorilla was far from rare and in fact, as National Geographic report, this was just one death of several in one week, in zoos around the world. In a shameful indictment of the lapse in safety standards in zoos both well run and otherwise, the Born Free USA organisation report that, since 1990, animals have died during escapes or attacks 42 times in American zoos. And including the incident at Cincinnati Zoo 15 incidents have resulted in humans being killed with 110 leading to injury, since 1990.

In 2004 another gorilla, called Jabari, was fatally shot by police officers after escaping from Dallas zoo and attacking several people.

Lions and tigers have killed 5 people and injured 41 on separate occasions since 1990.

The stupidity of humans knows no bounds

In spite of the extensive safety precautions put in place at zoos and animal parks – and these can vary widely – it seems that some people will find a way to put themselves in danger.

Another story in the news recently is one from Chile’s National Zoo in which two lions had to be shot dead by zoo officials because a suicidal man jumped into their enclosure. In China’s Yeshanko Wildlife Zoo a man got into a walrus enclosure in order to take a selfie with the animal. Sadly, the walrus drowned him!

Personal responsibility

Safety precautions are there to keep us safe. However, people also have a responsibility to keep themselves – and their children – out of harm’s way.


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Posted in Public Health and Safety