Audubon Zoo responds after gorilla throws wood block at pregnant guest
NEW ORLEANS – The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans is investigating after a gorilla reportedly threw an object into a crowd of visitors over the weekend, local media reports.
According to a WWLTV report, Praline, one of the zoo’s three gorillas, tossed a block of wood into a crowd during the zoo’s Soul Festival. The block of wood struck a pregnant woman, sending her to the hospital.
“Everyone started scattering, like running, so I tried to cover my face, then as I was turning around, the thing just hit my head,” Sylvia Cressy said. She is six months pregnant.
Audubon Zoo officials tell WWLTV that the block of wood was an “enrichment tool” full of honey and treats used for the gorillas.
"When it hit me, I kind of blanked out," Cressy said. "It really took the wind out of me and I fell on my belly. As I regained consciousness, I was just worried about my baby."
Cressy said she spent six hours in two different hospitals as doctors checked on her. She said she is not happy with the level of attention she received at the zoo.
“Our animals play with our enrichment activities and they don’t intend to throw anything at anyone,” Chimene Grant, the zoo’s Vice President of Marketing, said.
The Audubon Zoo issued the following statement Wednesday:
Audubon Zoo regrets the unfortunate incident that occurred Sunday, March 5, 2017, when a guest was harmed unintentionally by an enrichment item from the gorilla habitat. First responders attended to the guest immediately and cared for her.
"The safety of our guests and employees is of utmost concern," said Audubon's Vice-President of Marketing, Chimene Grant. "Audubon Zoo’s First Responders immediately attended to our guest for care and assistance."
The Zoo's animals receive enrichment tools daily. Enrichment at the AZA-accredited zoos across the country typically includes new food items, objects to manipulate, and activities designed to provide our animals with opportunities to express natural, species-appropriate behaviors, whether it be foraging, exploring, playing, or other activities. This particular enrichment item was a small piece of wood with small holes for food and treats such as honey and raisins. This enrichment item has been removed from the gorilla habitat.
"The health and welfare of the gorillas cared for at Audubon is paramount," said Audubon Zoo Vice-President and General Curator, Joel Hamilton. "We work to ensure that the physical and psychological needs of our gorillas are met by following best practices for animal care."
Hamilton added, "Gorillas in the wild face many challenges today. Audubon is committed to taking a stand on critical issues facing apes in the wild and to providing excellent care for the gorillas at the Zoo."
Audubon Zoo is working with the injured guest to make sure she gets the medical care she needs.
"We are examining how this unfortunate accident happened and will quickly address any concerns," said Grant.
The incident has been reported to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Accreditation Commission for review as per standard protocol.