VIRGINIA Zoo staff have told guests to “please take time out to enjoy yourself” after a three-year-old baby gorilla was attacked and killed by a lion in an enclosure.
Zoo workers say a male lion “should not have been able to get past” the enclosure and the female should not have attacked the male.
The baby gorilla died at the zoo, on a walkway that was covered in vegetation and had been partially flooded.
Zoo staff said they were “deeply saddened” by the incident.
The zoo had to temporarily close for several hours.
The animal’s mother, who had been walking the zoo’s animals when she came upon the incident, was arrested and charged with manslaughter.
“We’ve been working with the authorities for many weeks to address the issue and get to the bottom of this issue,” said Stephanie Davis, director of animal care and conservation at the Virginia Zoo.
“In this case, the mother did not have enough time to get to know her child, and we think she should not be in the lion enclosure.”
In a statement, the zoo said it was “working with the Virginia Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to ensure the safety of our animals and staff during this difficult time”.
“We are deeply saddened by this incident, and are working with authorities in Virginia to identify and bring to justice the individuals responsible for this incident,” the statement said.
The Virginia Zoo has a population of about 600 gorillas and 1,000 chimpanzees.
There are also about 300 captive chimpanzees in its Animal Research and Education Centre, the only breeding facility in the US for chimpanzees.
“The Virginia Zoo and other zoo staff are taking this situation very seriously, and working with local, state and federal officials to ensure that we are safe and have a humane facility for our zoo animals,” the Virginia zoo said in a statement.
It added: “The safety of zoo staff and animals is always our top priority.”
The zoo has more than 30 staff members and is working with state and local authorities.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the young gorilla who died and the entire staff,” the zoo added.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said the zoo was “very fortunate” the child was not killed in the attack.
He said the incident was an “unfortunate situation”.
The Virginia state government has launched an investigation into the attack and has asked the zoo to remove the gorilla from the facility.
Virginia state law allows zoo animals to be euthanised at the discretion of the Department of Agriculture (DFA).
The zoo, however, said the baby gorilla had not been removed from its animal enclosure, and that it would not be removing it for at least six weeks.
“It’s the zoo.
It’s not our animal,” the owner said, adding that she would “do everything in my power” to “make sure this doesn’t happen again”.
“There are animals in our zoo that have never had their lives cut short.
They are just wonderful, healthy, smart, strong, beautiful, caring, loving, and beautiful,” the woman added.
The woman said she did not know the baby would survive.
The DFA said it would look into the case.
“There is a strong possibility that the infant gorilla was euthanased as a result of the attack, and the actions of a third party who did not observe the circumstances of the incident and who did nothing to assist in the recovery of the animal,” a statement said on its website.
A spokesperson for Virginia’s Department of Public Safety and Homeland Security (DPHS) told the Associated Press news agency that the department is investigating the incident as a homicide.
The state is also asking the FBI and the US Department of Justice to investigate the incident to determine whether animal abuse and neglect was involved.
“DPHS is aware of the situation at the Washington, DC, zoo,” the spokesperson said.
“As soon as we learn more, we will work to provide all appropriate information to our state and municipal partners.”
An FBI spokeswoman told the AP that the agency was aware of a case in Washington state.
She said that the investigation is ongoing.