SF Zoo hires expert to investigate accidental death of baby gorilla

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The San Francisco Zoo has hired a renowned gorilla expert to investigate the accidental death of a 16-month-old gorilla.

ABC7 News talked with the investigator on Monday, and he says the first thing he'll be looking into is the hydraulic door that accidentally crushed that baby gorilla. He described it as a type of elevator door. A normal elevator, however, has a sensor that will make the doors open if something passes through as they're closing. Unfortunately, the doors at the zoo have an emergency stop button, and staff didn't get to it on time.

Zoo patrons placed flowers at the entrance to the gorilla habitat. And on Monday morning, one of the primates came over to a woman who created a small memorial inside in honor of 16-month-old Kabibe.

A primate at the San Francisco Zoo looks at a memorial created for a baby gorilla who died.



"Surprised they came up today because they're really in mourning," said zoo visitor Monica Rourke.

Another zoo visitor told us she's concerned for the safety of the animals.

"The five females all came out and went to different parts of the enclosure and just sat, sort of like they were looking, like they were wondering what had gone on," said zoo visitor Joan Skinner.

A security guard was posted at the entrance to the zoo, preventing all media from going inside with TV cameras. So we bought a ticket and walked in with our smartphones.

"I was also concerned honestly that the zoo evidently shut things down for the press and journalists yesterday," Skinner said.

No zoo staff members were made available on Monday. But according to a written statement by a spokesperson, Florida Atlantic University research professor Terry Maple, PhD has been hired to investigate this case. ABC7 News talked to him by phone from Florida.

"It has a mechanism around on it that is there to be operated in an emergency," he said. "The door can be stopped, and in this case it was not stopped in time to save this little gorilla."

Kabibe was accidentally killed Friday when zoo keepers were moving the primates into their night quarters.

Maple says she was carried into the night enclosure by her grandmother and primary caregiver Bawang, then unexpectedly darted through a closing hydraulic door and was crushed.

"As I understand it they have tested the system, they tested it, they know that the system is working it wasn't a mechanical failure as far as they can tell," Maple said.

He has already started his investigation by phone and email from Florida and will be arriving next week to continue in person.

In a statement, the zoo said that Kabibe was initially removed from the enclosure and brought to the hospital. Her body was later brought back to the gorilla enclosure so that, as is customary with a primate death, she could be shown to the troop: "Bawang was allowed to touch and examine her. Animal staff reports that the gorilla family is showing normal signs of grief and loss and each gorilla is dealing with the death in its own way, according to their individual personalities. Since Friday evening, the group's energy and demeanor has been evolving each day, with a gradual appetite improvement and increased exploratory behavior."

The zoo went on to say that the primary focus for both animal staff and the gorillas has been on Bawang: "While Bawang showed initial signs of distress immediately following the accident -- which included a specific calling-out behavior and loss of appetite -- she has since returned to the outdoor gorilla enclosure and has begun to forage for treats such as applesauce, raisins, pumpkin puree, and sunflower seeds. Bawang's closest group members -- 5-year-old grandson Hasani, 16-year-old daughter Nneka, and 33-year-old lifelong companion Zura -- are staying close by her side and can be seen gently comforting her. Animal staff is hopeful that the gorilla family is processing the loss appropriately and will recover fully over time."
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