WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced on Saturday that the Department of Justice has filed charges against three zookeepers who were involved in the shooting death of Harambe the gorilla after a four year-old African-American child climbed into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo last week.
“To put it simply, we have charged that these individuals exhibited malice when they conspired and subsequently carried out the summary execution of Harambe, an endangered and defenseless silverback gorilla,” Attorney General Lynch said during a press briefing in Washington, adding, “Justice will be swift, it will be righteous, and it will be without mercy.”
In addition to unlawful discharge of a weapon and child endangerment, the three officials have been charged with violating the Endangered Species Act, a federal crime which carries a penalty of up to one year in prison. “When compounded with these other charges, they’re faced with the very real possibility of spending several years behind bars,” Alexander DeLafleur, an attorney who specializes in animal law, told Fox News.
However, some say several years is not enough. “Gorillas share 98.3% of their genetic code with humans,” said Dr. Hope Caravello, a biology professor at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. In an open letter to President Barack Obama this week, Dr. Caravello argued that animals, particularly apes, should enjoy the same basic rights as humans. “Not only are these beautiful creatures our ancestors but also our closest cousins,” Dr. Caravello wrote. “They deserve to be treated as equals.”
Harambe, a captive silverback gorilla, was shot to death on May 28, just one day after his seventeenth birthday. In 2014, Harambe was transferred from his home and birthplace at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Texas governor Gregg Abbott announced via Twitter on Friday that an ivory statue depicting Harambe will be erected at the state capitol in Austin to commemorate his life.