A family New Year’s Day trip to a Florida zoo turned into a nightmare when a 2-year-old girl fell into a rhinoceros exhibit, making contact with at least one of the 4,000 lb. animals.
The incident happened at the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, where attendees can get up close and personal with the animals through its hands-on Rhino Encounter educational experience. In the 20-minute ground-level exhibit — which, per the zoo’s website, costs $24.95 per person for non-members, $14.95 for members, and is open to anyone age 3 and up — zookeepers supervise as guests touch the feeding white rhinoceros, who are separated only by a series of steel poles.
It’s those poles that the toddler girl fell through, witnesses on the scene told zoo officials. According to a statement released by the park on Tuesday, the little girl’s father was kneeling down and holding her to look at the animals when she stumbled backwards into the enclosure. At least one of the animals made contact with its snout.
The girl was quickly pulled to safety by her parents, Reuters reported. She had an abrasion on her cheek, while her mother complained of arm pain.
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Both were taken the Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital in Orlando for non-critical injuries, though their identity is being kept private. In a statement made by the father and obtained by NBC News, he said his daughter is “doing well” and that his wife had been released. “Today has been a trying day for our family,” he said, asking for privacy.
A picture of the girl’s shoe in the enclosure was later shared on Twitter by a zoo guest.
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Since the fall, the Brevard Zoo has suspended the experience, which they say has been offered daily without incident since 2009.
Reuters reports that the poles in question are 11 inches (28 cm) apart.
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“Our number one concern is the safety and welfare of our guests and our hearts go out to the family,” Keith Winsten, the Zoo’s executive director, said in an online statement. “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.”
Four southern white rhinos (two males and two females) call the Brevard Zoo home, according to its website.
None will be punished for the incident, CBS affiliate WKMG-TV reported.
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