Donald Trump noted that when Harambe held onto the little boy's hand it was "almost like a mother holding a baby"

By Lindsay Kimble
Updated May 31, 2016 12:00 PM
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Seth Wenig/AP

Donald Trump is backing the Cincinnati Zoo’s controversial decision to shoot and kill gorilla Harambe in order to save a little boy who fell into his enclosure over the weekend.

“I think it’s a very tough call,” Trump said during a press conference from his campaign headquarters in New York City. “It was amazing. Because there were moments with the gorilla – the way he held that child, it was almost like a mother holding a baby. It looked so beautiful and calm.”

Harambe, a 17-year-old, 450 lb. gorilla, was shot by zoo staff after the 4-year-old slipped into his enclosure. The zoo’s director Thane Maynard said the zoo decided to kill the gorilla because tranquilizing it wouldn’t have worked fast enough.

In footage of the incident – to which Trump referred – Harambe appeared to hold tight to the boy’s hand, pulling him around the exhibit.

“He was acting erratically, he was disoriented,” Maynard said. “It’s due to his strength, that’s where the danger was.”

“There were moments where he looked pretty dangerous,” Trump said on Tuesday. “I don’t think they had a choice. Probably they didn’t have a choice. You have a child, a young child who’s at stake. It’s too bad there wasn’t another way.”

He continued, “I thought it was so beautiful to watch – that powerful, almost 500-pound gorilla, the way he dealt with that little boy. It just takes one second It just takes one little flick of his finger and I will tell you they probably had no choice.”

The boy’s family thanked the zoo staff for their quick actions on Monday, saying in a statement that “We know that this was a very difficult decision for them and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla.”

An eyewitness told PEOPLE that Harambe was “treating the little boy like a Raggedy Ann doll in his grip.”