Zoo Association to review Audubon gorilla block-throwing incident

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums will review a full report from the Audubon Zoo after a gorilla threw a wooden block at a pregnant woman, wounding her.

NEW ORLEANS - A freak occurrence at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans is getting national attention.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the accreditation organization for the zoo industry, is now investigating why a gorilla named Praline, threw a block of wood at a woman in the crowd, Sunday afternoon.

Sylvia Cressy, 34, who is six months pregnant was visiting the zoo with her family when out of nowhere the object struck her in the back of the head.

 "I really thought I was dying," Cressy said. "It knocked the wind out of me. It was a very hard hit and I have a lump in the back of my head."

The Audubon Nature Institute, which runs the zoo sent out a video news release on Wednesday, calling the event an "unfortunate incident."

"We are reviewing every aspect so that we can make any necessary adjustments," Audubon Zoo VP of Marketing Chimene Grand said.

Zoo officials said the block of wood that hit the woman is an enrichment tool, filled with honey and other treats for the three gorillas that share the enclosure. The block of wood has not returned to the enclosure in recent days.

"We won't be ending any of the enrichment programs that we have now, but we'll be looking at how we can tighten this up and ensure this doesn't happen again in the future," Audubon Zoo General Curator Joel Hamilton said. "Here at Audubon Zoo, we're very concerned for the welfare of our animals."

WWL-TV showed video of Praline to Loyola University of New Orleans Primate Behavior Expert Evan Zucker, Ph.D.

He said it looked like the animal was upset, possibly by something in her environment.

"She looked stressed," Zucker said. "She was by herself. She didn't interact with the other gorilla that was visible, nor did the other gorilla interact with her."

Zucker added that throwing a piece of wood at the crowd is not typical gorilla behavior.

"If they're upset, they will display," Zucker said. "They will run around, beat their chest, grab at things on the ground, but I think throwing objects is rare."

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums will now review the circumstances surrounding the matter.

"According to AZA's accreditation standards, the zoo will be asked for a report regarding the incident this past weekend," AZA spokesman Rob Vernon said. "When they receive the letter, they have 30 days to respond." 

Audubon Zoo is working with the injured guest to make sure she gets the medical care she needs.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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