What happened at the Cincinnati Zoo this weekend - when a child fell into a primate enclosure prompting zoo staff to shoot a beloved gorilla - is something local zoo officials plan and train for but at the same time hope will never happen.
"It was a tough situation, but they made the right call," said Shaun Rogers, marketing director of Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown.
Philadelphia Zoo officials plan to hold a meeting this week to evaluate their own operation in light of the Cincinnati incident, said Andy Baker, the zoo's chief operating officer and a primatologist.
On Saturday, a 17-year-old, 450-pound male western lowland gorilla named Harambe was killed by Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden officials after a 3-year-old boy went under a rail, slipped through wires and climbed over a moat wall before falling 15 feet into an ape enclosure holding Harambe and two female gorillas.
Zoo workers, fearing for the child's life, first tried to call the three animals, an endangered species, from the enclosure. The two females complied, but Harambe did not. He was then shot by rescuers, according to the zoo website. The boy was treated at a hospital and released, according to news reports.
The Philadelphia Zoo has two teams in place to handle such emergencies, Baker said.
About five public safety officers are on the grounds at any given time to ensure the more than 1.2 million annual visitors abide by the rules. They also handle crowd management, and assist with all emergencies including medical ones. They do not handle animals, Baker said.
About 10 members of the zoo's 190-member staff are on its "animal response team," which is composed of animal care professionals, managers, and veterinary staff.
If a visitor is found inside an enclosure, staff notify the teams while trying to distract the animals by calling to them or making loud noises, Baker said.
Response team members will shoot an animal only if a guest's life is in danger, he said. "Our first priority is human safety."
Most enclosures are hard to get into, Baker said.
Visitors to the primate enclosure can view the animals from inside the Primate Reserve house through floor-to-ceiling, three-paned glass or outside behind 10-foot-tall steel mesh fencing.
In locations with shorter railings, there is usually a "landing zone" about 8 feet wide should anyone fall over the barriers. Live wires separate that zone from the drop into the exhibit - preventing people from getting into the enclosure and animals from getting out.
That being said, a kangaroo recently bounced out of its exhibit, Baker said. The incident occurred before the zoo opened and the staff theorized the animal may have been startled by a vehicle passing the enclosure.
"We bounced him back in," said Baker.
At the Elmwood Park Zoo, signs are posted at exhibits and the staff is always on the lookout for infractions, said Rogers. They also have an emergency protocol in place should a visitor get into an exhibit.
Rogers acknowledged that in spite of the barriers and signs, there have been "close calls" over the years when parents lift their child onto the fence or a child climbs up to get a better look.
"Thankfully we have been there to say 'get back,' " Rogers said.
More than 30 years ago, a man was able to break into an exhibit and was scratched by a lion before exiting, Rogers said. While the zoo no longer has lions, it does have jaguars, wolves, bison, giraffes, and other animals that are capable of injuring or even killing people.
Even the river otters present a danger.
"They are super adorable but can be pretty ferocious," Rogers said.