Toddler injured after rhino encounter at zoo

A 2-year-old girl was injured at a Florida zoo during a close-up rhino encounter experience, zoo officials said.

Posted: Jan 2, 2019 8:06 PM
Updated: Jan 2, 2019 8:46 PM

A 2-year-old girl remains in the hospital a day after she was injured at a Florida zoo during a private rhino encounter experience, zoo officials and her family said.

The toddler and her family were taking part Tuesday in a close-up experience with white rhinos at the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida, when the girl came into contact with the animals.

The family of three was given access to feel and brush the rhinos while supervised by two zookeepers in an area of the zoo where they were separated from the animals only by steel posts. The toddler wedged through the posts and got into the rhinos' yard, said Andrea Hill, the zoo's marketing and communications director.

The posts are roughly 11 inches apart, Hill said.

As two female rhinos approached the toddler, the snout of one made contact with the child and she got bumped, Hill said.

The child's father, who was holding on to her throughout the incident, quickly pulled her out and carried her to the front office, the zoo said. The girl was taken to a pediatric hospital. Details of the child's injuries or condition were not immediately known.

The girl's mother was also transported to a local hospital with an arm injury, Brevard Fire Rescue spokeswoman Caitlin Butler told CNN.

The girl's father on Wednesday described the ordeal as "a trying day for our family," according to a statement released on his behalf by Orlando Health.

"We're thankful to everyone who has reached out with their concerns," he said. "Our daughter is in good care at Arnold Palmer Hospital (for Children) and is doing well. My wife was also treated for her injury and has been released from the hospital. At this time, we ask for privacy as we focus on our daughter's recovery."

The zoo's executive director, Keith Winsten, said the facility's "No. 1 concern is the safety and welfare of our guests and our hearts go out to the family. Safety has always been of paramount importance to us."

Rhino encounters and "all other premium animal experiences" have been suspended until a safety review is completed, zoo officials said Wednesday in a statement. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also is investigating, they said.

"Our hearts are with the family impacted by this incident and we are committed to being as transparent as possible without disclosing personal information about our guests," zoo officials said.

The rhinos' welfare "was never compromised and they will not be 'punished' in any way," officials added.

The rhino experience has been offered daily since 2009, and no other incidents have been reported, the zoo said.

The Brevard Zoo, which houses more than 900 animals, is about 55 miles southeast of Orlando.

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