A seven-year-old girl was visiting the Rabat-Temara Zoological Park on Tuesday with her family. On visiting the African elephant enclosure in the Rabat Zoo in Morocco, an elephant hurled a sizeable rock at the girl’s head as she stood taking photos of the animals.
After the girl was hit in the head by the rock, she was taken to a nearby hospital, but despite undergoing medical treatment, she passed away a few hours later.
A child has died in Rabat, Morocco after a captive zoo elephant throws a rock and hits her in the head. We must… https://t.co/2k9dzCQlPr
— Elephant Lovers (@elephantlovers) July 28, 2016
A bystander made a video of the girl as she was being treated in the aftermath of the incident, showing the barrier to the elephant enclosure, the rock that had been thrown at the girl, and the girl herself, bloodied and receiving attention from passersby.
Speaking of the attack by the African elephant, the Rabat Zoo said in a French language press statement, “This tragic event happened after the animal ejected a projectile through and beyond the barriers and ditch that separated the animal from the visitors.”
“The victim was taken to hospital where she died within a few hours. In these painful circumstances, zoo staff expresses condolences to the family of the deceased and joins them in their pain.”
The zoo continued by saying the enclosure met international safety standards, adding:
“Accidents of this type are rare, unforeseeable, and unusual. Accidents of this nature have happened in international zoos, most recently in Disney World Orlando and the Cincinnati Zoo in the United States.”
The video taken by the bystander was uploaded to YouTube and has been widely shared on social media. It has since raised much criticism of the Rabat Zoo, with many calling on the zoo to take responsibility for the death of the young girl.
As reported by Morocco World News, the video was posted by Jadid24/7. The footage initially zooms in on the sizeable rock hurled by the elephant at the young girl.
The video then takes viewers on a tour of the security barrier between visitors and the elephants, ending with a view of the girl receiving medical care from passersby and a man who appears to be in uniform.
— Africa Updates (@africaupdates) July 28, 2016
However, it was noted by a commentator on the video that the accident had occurred five minutes before and no ambulance had yet arrived on the scene.
Another commentator to the video expresses his outrage at the way the Rabat Zoo handled the situation, saying: “Primarily responsible for this tragedy is the director of the Rabat Zoo. How is it possible that the place receives a large number of visitors but there is no ambulance station?”
Others commented on the delayed arrival of the ambulance, as stated in the video footage, and called on the Rabat Zoo to take responsibility for the girl’s tragic death.
However, according to a report by the New York Times, experts at the Rabat Zoo are concerned about the incident and are trying to understand why the elephant hurled the stone at the visitors, thus killing the girl.
A veterinarian at the zoo said on Friday that the behavior of the female elephant was “abnormal” and needs to be understood. The elephant picked up the rock and hurled it more than 10 meters over a wide ditch and a wooden barrier towards the girl.
The zoo veterinarian, Abderahim Salhi said the elephant exhibit has been temporarily closed and that zoo personnel are still in shock three days after what he termed an “unforeseeable accident.”
“The behavior… of any animal is very complex,” he said, “And wild animals are unpredictable.”
“We are all surprised. We don’t yet understand,” Salhi said.
According to Salhi, the Rabat Zoo opened back in 2012 on the edge of the Moroccan city and has been designed to show animals living in replicas of their natural habitats, but without direct contact with visitors. This means that stones are reportedly plentiful inside the elephants’ habitat, as they would be in nature.
Salma Slimani, who manages the zoo, said, “We are very sad at what happened, but it would be wrong to blame the elephant. This was not premeditated.”
The video below shows the aftermath of the incident at the Rabat Zoo.
Warning: The footage may upset sensitive viewers.