Last Saturday, Cincinnati Zoo officials shot and killed a 17 year-old western lowland gorilla after it threatened a toddler who had fallen into the moat surrounding the exhibit (the child was later released from the hospital basically unharmed). Aside from the sensationalism brought on by various media reports, I was curious about the policies and procedures in place to handle dangerous animal situations at zoos and animal parks around the world. Thankfully, zoos accredited by organizations like the Association of Zoos and Aquariums have ‘Weapons Teams’ trained to use deadly force in the event of an animal escape or to prevent death or serious harm.
Although the procedures followed by the ‘weapons teams’ are standardized, the firearms used appear to be chosen by the individual zoos and/or the leader of each team. Open source information points to a combination of 12 gauge shotguns and high-powered rifles being on hand at most major zoos.
From a story in the St Petersburg Times: http://www.sptimes.com/2006/08/24/Tampabay/Zookeeper_likely_to_f.shtml
The team armed themselves with four guns from a locked cabinet kept in the general curator’s office. Salisbury carried a 12-gauge shotgun. The remaining staff carried two .375 rifles and a 30.06 rifle.
Zoo employees also train and qualify with local and state law enforcement agencies.
From a story in the Pittsburgh Tribune (Trib LIVE): http://triblive.com/news/adminpage/7941546-74/zoo-police-animal
Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Stephen A. Bucar said police officers and zoo workers went through training immediately after the incident Nov. 4, 2012, when 2-year-old Maddox Derkosh was killed. Bucar said police don’t carry weaponry needed to bring down a large animal in the event of a similar incident. They don’t know enough about animal behavior to shoot an animal, he said.
Various standardized practices from around the world:
North Carolina Zoo (From the American Association of Zookeepers);
Weapons Team Management
Identify team members (need enough to always have two on duty at any time)
Basic safety and marksmanship training with local law enforcement
Weapons selection and maintenance
Clearly defined eligibility and qualification requirements
Range qualification at least twice per year
Clearly defined weapons discharge criteria
Identified program leader
Range leader qualifications and training
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Featured Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures