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Rhinoceros injures toddler who slipped into Florida zoo exhibit

By Laura Goldman From Care2

Photo credit: Brevard Zoo

Just two days after a lion was shot and killed after mauling a worker to death at a wildlife park in North Carolina, a two-year-old girl was injured when she entered a rhinoceros exhibit at Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Fla., on New Year’s Day.

The toddler was participating in the “Rhino Encounter”—what the zoo calls a “hands-on, educational experience” with southern white rhinos—when she apparently stumbled backward between steel poles and into the enclosure.

Fortunately, unlike the heartbreaking incident in North Carolina, neither the little girl nor the rhinos were seriously injured. Brevard Zoo said in a statement that “the welfare of the rhinos was never compromised and they will not be ‘punished’ in any way.” The zoo has four endangered Southern white rhinos—two males and two females—that each weigh more than two tons.

The snout—the area above the mouth and below the horn—of at least one of these rhinos touched the girl, leaving an abrasion, before she was quickly pulled from the exhibit. The girl and her mother, who suffered an arm injury as she tried to grab her daughter, were taken to nearby hospitals for treatment.

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“Today has been a trying day for our family,” her father said in a statement released by the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. “Our daughter is in good care and is doing well. My wife was also treated for her injury and has been released from the hospital.”

The zoo said in its statement that its “No. 1 concern is the safety and welfare of our guests.” If that is true, why does it allow its visitors to get so close to and touch the animals?

And why, as WFTV news anchor Jamie Holmes pointed out on Facebook, are the steel poles separating visitors from the rhino exhibit 11 inches apart? They’re wide enough for visitors to reach their hands through to pet and brush the rhinos—and, as the girl proved—they’re much too easy for a small child to slip through. Children under three years old are not allowed to participate in the Rhino Encounter unless they’re being held by a parent or guardian, Brevard Zoo Executive Director Keith Winsten said.

The Brevard Zoo near-tragedy is yet another example of why putting animals in captivity is detrimental to the animals and can put visitors in danger.

Like many zoos and wildlife parks, the Brevard Zoo says that it’s educational for visitors. Its mission, according to its website, is “Wildlife conservation through education and participation.” However, it doesn’t explain how petting and brushing rhinos teaches visitors anything about these animals or their natural behaviors in the wild.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the incident. The zoo has suspended the Rhino Encounter and other “premium animal experiences” until it has “thoroughly reviewed our processes and procedures to ensure this cannot happen again,” it said in the statement.

Here’s a better idea: for the welfare of the animals and visitors, skip the review, and put a permanent end to all of these experiences.

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