An approximately 2-year-old girl visiting the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida, on New Year's Day had to be airlifted to a hospital after being injured when she entered an enclosure where there were southern white rhinoceroses.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, January 1, the child and her family were at the zoo checking out the hands-on, educational Rhino Encounter exhibit in which humans are separated from the animals by a series of steel poles, reported ABC Action News.
"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," said zoo spokesperson Elliot Zirulnik, reported WFTV.
WKMG ClickOrlando said that the toddler was rescued from the exhibit by her father, who then rushed her to the front of the zoo where they were met by officials from the Brevard County Fire Rescue team. The girl had to be airlifted to the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando under a trauma alert status.
The girl's mother also had to be taken to a hospital, Orlando Regional Medical Center, for treatment. WFTV reported that the mother sustained a non-life-threatening arm injury.
"Our 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 and we are suspending these encounters until we have thoroughly reviewed our processes and procedures to ensure this cannot happen again," stated Brevard Zoo Executive Director Keith Winsten.
The Rhino Encounter exhibit has been offered daily by the zoo since 2009. It costs extra money — $24.95 for the general public and $14.95 for zoo members — on top of the zoo's normal admission fee. This is the first incident that they have had with the exhibit.
The Brevard Zoo's website states that southern white rhinoceroses can weigh between 4,000 and 8,000 pounds each. The animals eat grasses and use their large horns as a natural defense. They have wider mouths and longer ears than black rhinos and can live up to 50 years in the wild.
WKMG ClickOrlando noted that there are four southern white rhinos at the Brevard Zoo: two males, Frankie and Howard, and two females, Uzuri and Kibibi. Although the zoo did not identify which rhino was involved in the incident, it did tell the media outlet that the animal will not be punished in any way.
This is the second major animal attack this week. On Sunday, December 30, a lion at the Conservators Center in Burlington, North Carolina, killed an intern that was part of a team cleaning its enclosure, as previously reported by the Inquisitr.