Cincinnati Police Launch Criminal Probe Into Gorilla Incident at Zoo

Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden(CINCINNATI) -- The shooting death of an endangered silverback gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo on Saturday to rescue a toddler who had fallen into the enclosure has garnered national outrage from animal rights activists and citizens concerned about zoo safety.

On Tuesday prosecutors from Hamilton County, Ohio, said that the Cincinnati Police Department will look into the incident for possible criminal charges.

"The incident at the Cincinnati Zoo involving the young child who fell into the gorilla enclosure is under investigation by the Cincinnati Police Department," Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters said in a statement Tuesday. "Once their investigation is concluded, they will confer with our office on possible criminal charges. When the investigation and review are complete, we will update the media."

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Animal protection group Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) argued Tuesday in a press release that the Cincinnati Zoo is responsible for the child's entering the enclosure and the resulting the death of the gorilla. The group launched a complaint to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Tanya Espinosa, a spokeswoman for the service, told ABC News Tuesday that it inspects facilities on average once a year but may inspect them more frequently if they have repeat noncompliance issues or a complaint is received.

The most recent APHIS report on the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens took place on April 7, 2016, and stated, "No noncompliant items identified during this inspection."

According to the USDA's Animal Welfare Act and Animal Welfare Regulations, a perimeter fence for an outdoor housing facility for nonhuman primates "must be constructed so that it protects nonhuman primates by restricting unauthorized humans and animals the size of dogs, skunks and raccoons from going through it or under it and having contact with the nonhuman primates."

Espinosa added that, at this point, the APHIS does not have an investigation open into the incident at the Cincinnati Zoo but that "we will be looking into this incident to determine whether there were any Animal Welfare Act noncompliances that contributed." The SAEN complaint is the only one the USDA has received about the incident so far.

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