Zoo dangerous-animal squads arm for a weighty responsibility

When a 400-pound gorilla grabbed a 3-year-old boy at the Cincinnati Zoo, the sharpshooter who killed the ape wasn’t from the police.

Instead, the shooter was a specially trained zoo staffer on one of the many dangerous-animal emergency squads at animal parks around the country.

Teams train at firing ranges, stash rifles and shotguns in strategic spots around the grounds and rank the most hazardous species in their care. Members train in elaborate drills for situations like what unfolded when the child fell into the Cincinnati gorilla’s enclosure Saturday.

It’s a weighty responsibility for people who work among animals they might one day have to kill. But team members say they understand the need to do it if a human life is endangered.

Zoos emphasize that killing an animal is a last resort.