The steel bars around the rhino experience are about one foot apart — too narrow for an adult to slip through, but wide enough for a small child.
As ABC News reports, on New Year’s Day, a mom, dad, and their 2-year-old daughter were at the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida. The family was enjoying the “Rhino Encounter,” which the Zoo described to ABC as a “hands-on, educational experience with Brevard Zoo’s white rhinoceroses.”
At the Brevard zoo today when a little girl fell in rhino pen. Pretty crazy. pic.twitter.com/C1X9M58Wbr
— Scott Henkle (@OnslaughtGame) January 1, 2019
As part of the exhibit, visitors are encouraged to reach through the gap in the steel bars that separate them from the rhinos to touch the animals. The zoo has run the rhino event for almost a decade without any problems — though children younger than three aren’t intended to participate unless they are held by an adult.
Though details remain unclear, it appears that the toddler accidentally fell backward through the gap in the bars and into the enclosure. According to WKMG, witnesses said that the viewing platform the girl fell from was about ten feet high. A zoo spokesperson told WKMG:
“According to witnesses, the child stumbled and fell in between two of the poles and at this point, the snout of at least one of the rhinoceroses made contact with the child.”
The girl’s mother was injured while trying to save her daughter. The girl’s father had been holding her during the event and rescued her from the pit. In the meantime, the zoo staff called rescue crews.
BCFR responded to the Brevard Zoo today for a child that fell into the Rhino exhibit. The child was trauma alerted to a pediatric hospital & mother was ground transported to an Orlando hospital for treatment. Further info being referred to zoo officials. #BCFR #BrevardsBravest
— BCFRpio (@BCFRpio) January 1, 2019
According to ABC News, one first responder noted:
“We have a 1-year-old who fell into the rhino pit … is pinned up against the wall. She is conscious at this time.”
The father met emergency crews at the zoo’s entrance, and the toddler was taken to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. The mother was also treated at the hospital and then released. The father told WKMG:
“[Tuesday] 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. 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.”
Zoo officials say that the rhinos won’t be punished for what happened, nor were they endangered by the incident. The zoo’s director told WKMG that the rhino keeper was very attentive during the tour, adding:
“Our number one 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 and we are suspending these encounters until we have thoroughly reviewed our processes and procedures to ensure this cannot happen again.”