Brevard Zoo rhino encounter safety changes announced after girl's fall

Age limits, physical barrier expected within weeks

By Kelly Pepperman - Producer

MELBOURNE, Fla. - Brevard Zoo officials released new details about the safety changes underway at the zoo's rhinoceros enclosure.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved the proposed changes after a 2-year-old girl was injured during a hands-on encounter with the rhino and her family earlier this year.

Two of the four rhinos at the Brevard Zoo sleep under a tree in their exhibit. (Image: James Sparvero/WKMG)

Under the new policy changes, children under 7 years old cannot participate, groups will be smaller and a physical barrier will be installed at the rhino exhibit.

On Jan. 1, the family of three was given access to feel and brush the rhinos while supervised by two zookeepers in an area of the zoo where they were separated from the animals only by steel posts, officials said.

Brevard Zoo rhinoceros exhibit where a 2-year-old girl was injured after falling into it on Jan. 1, 2019. (Image: Brevard Zoo)

At some point during the experience, the toddler fell into the enclosure and landed in the rhinos' yard, said Andrea Hill, the zoo's marketing and communications director.

Officials at the zoo in Melbourne said a rhino's snout touched the girl before she was retrieved in a matter of seconds.

In addition to a brusied lung and lacerated liver, the girl also sustained an injury to her kidney, according to a report released last month. She was badly bruised on her face, back, chest and abdomen as well, according to an incident report released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Zoo officials said Tuesday the barrier should be installed and encounters are expected to resume within the next few weeks.

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