Florida Zoo to Buff Security at Rhino Exhibit After Incident Involving Toddler

January 4, 2019 Updated: January 4, 2019

Zoo Miami is going to implement heightened security at its rhino exhibit after a 2-year-old girl at Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Flordia, was touched by a rhinoceros and rushed to the hospital.

The toddler stumbled through metal poles that form a barrier between people participating in a hands-on experience and the huge animals.

At least one rhinoceros at the Brevard Zoo then touched the girl with its snout, an area near its mouth.

According to the zoo’s website, the Rhino Encounter lets people “meet our magnificent, massive rhinos up close and personal” in a zookeeper-led experience. The experience, which was available twice daily, has been suspended indefinitely after the incident.

As news of the incident quickly circulated nationwide, officials at Zoo Miami quickly realized that the close-up experience there, similar to the Rhino Encounter at the Brevard Zoo, needs more security.

Metal bars at Zoo Miami separate visitors from the rhinos. But the bars, spaced 11 inches apart, could allow small children to slip through to the enclosure.

Officials noted that the zoo already had an extra barrier of steel cables outside of the bars but they’re now looking into what extra precautions they can introduce.

“We’re probably going to add more cables to this area. Make it even more closed-in to prevent any kid from crawling under,” Zoo Miami spokesman Ron Magill told ABC.

“Understand that the experience here is a little different than that. We only allow one person at a time. Only one person at a time can come in here and feed the rhino, and during that time, there is always an attendant right next to them.”

But, he said, the experience will continue because it gives people a crucial connection with wildlife.

“This is a special experience,” Magill said. “This is an unforgettable experience for somebody, especially for a child, to be able to make that kind of connection, to understand that these animals are special and the fact that they need to be protected.”

rhino miami zoo
A rhinoceros eats leaves through metal bars while children pose at the Miami Zoo in a file photo. (Miami Zoo)

Rhino Won’t be Punished

While any new security measures that officials at the Brevard Zoo are considering haven’t been announced, the zoo did emphasize that the rhino that touched the toddler wouldn’t be punished.

The zoo issued a statement on Jan. 2 clarifying what exactly happened on Tuesday, stating that the young girl entered the rhino yard but noting that she “did not ‘fall in’ from an elevated area as some have speculated.”

“Rhino Encounter participants stand on ground level and are separated from the animals by steel poles. This child stumbled through the poles, at which point at least one of the rhinos touched the child with their snout. The child was retrieved in a matter of seconds and transported to a local hospital via ambulance,” the zoo said in the statement.

The zoo added, “The welfare of the rhinos was never compromised and they will not be ‘punished’ in any way.”

Before the incident, the Rhino Encounter had taken place since 2009 without incident, the zoo said.

The zoo has four southern white rhinoceros, which hail from central and southern Africa, two males named Frankie and Howard and two females named Uzuri and Kibibi. The newest addition, Frankie, who weighs 5,300 pounds, joined the group in October.

It’s not clear which of the rhinos touched the girl, who was rushed to Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital in Orlando for treatment.

The girl was doing well, the girl’s father said in a statement released through the hospital later on Tuesday.

“Today has been a trying day for our family. We’re thankful to everyone who has reached out with their concerns. Our daughter is in good care at Arnold Palmer Hospital and is doing well,” he said.

“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.”

From NTD News

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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