Rhino Enclosure

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.”

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.

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.”

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6 Replies to “Toddler Hospitalized After Falling Through Barrier Surrounding Rhino Exhibit. Her Parents Were Standing Next to Her”

  • Anonymous 2 years ago

    Never ceases to amaze me how stupid people can be with their children.

  • Retired130 2 years ago

    Ten years without an incident & then one pair of careless parents will ruin it for all. Who does not hold onto a 2 year old in a zoo, especially right next to an animal enclosure? No one should blame the zoo or the construction of the exhibition. It is 100% the parents’ fault. Wonder if they will now sue to get some quick cash for their carelessness.

  • Anonymous 2 years ago

    I agree. It’s 100% the parents fault. But you know what’s going to happen. The parents are going to get sue happy, start seeing dollar signs and try to place the blame on the zoo. And the comment in the article, “Zoo officials say that the rhinos won’t be punished for what happened.” Who could even think like that!? The rhinos did nothing! I would like to know about any warning signs that may have been up around the exhibit that the clueless parents may have ignored.

  • Lynda Marquardt 2 years ago

    “Children under 3 are not encouraged to participate unless held by an adult”. I’m sure that is posted there for all to see. Apparently, the parents can’t read and they obviously don’t have any common sense.

  • MariaRose 2 years ago

    The zoo had posted limits to the age of the children allowed in the area but those specific parents felt it didn’t apply to their child who was obviously younger than allowed. How does a father lose hold of his child to the point the child slipped backward. Apparently, the child was a squirmer who wasn’t used to staying still even when held which to any other normal parent would be a signal to remove the child from the situation immediately. The zoo may have to re-evaluate the structure of the enclosure to ensure no future occurrences but most of the liability falls on those parents.

  • Sue H. 2 years ago

    For heaven’s sake, people! Then father was holding the kid like he was supposed to be! A parent can, unintentionally, lose hold of a squirmy toddler! What business did the zoo have allowing ANYONE, other than handlers or vets, touch a dangerous animal like a rhino?! Those things charge first and ask questions later!

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