Wild Florida workers shoot, kill white rhino after it escapes its enclosure

General manager: ‘We did everything we could to not have to kill this animal’

KENANSVILLE, Fla. – Staff members at Wild Florida Drive-Thru Safari Park shot and killed a 2,000-pound white rhinoceros after it escaped its enclosure, according to a report compiled by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The incident happened on Sept. 19, 2022, which was just days before the park was scheduled to debut its new rhino exhibit to the public 40 miles south of Orlando.

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According to the FWC report, “dispatch received an anonymous tip that a rhinoceros had just been shot at Wild Florida” at 11:45 a.m. that day.

Body worn camera footage showed FWC investigators arrived at Wild Florida at 1:20 p.m., where they spoke to the park’s general manager Jordan Munns.

“It was a 3-year-old white rhino,” he’s heard telling FWC.

Munns explained that Wild Florida had just received the animal the day before and was acting aggressively.

“What we were told he was a pretty gentle animal, they were crate training him, and so we thought, ‘Hey, you know, this could be a good fit,’” he told investigators.

He said later that day, the rhino broke out of its quarantine area, which forced him to close the park to visitors the next day out of safety concerns.

“The way he was acting inside the pen, he was going to burn through a couple animals, kill them, and then get out, and there was no chance we’re going have that,” he said.

He said the next morning, he and other staff members watched as the animal worked to escape from its secondary enclosure.

Once it was free, he said the rhino ran into a grove of cypress trees inside the park.

“We were so close to catching him that we didn’t want to shoot him right on the spot, but I said if four feet touch the ground on the other side of this wire, he’s done,” Munns was heard telling investigators. “We came up flying up here, he was still maybe 10 or 12 trees in, and we started shooting.”

Munns told FWC investigators the rhino was shot, but he kept running.

He said he and other staff members chased it while shooting at it for about one-third of a mile inside the park.

“We used the biggest guns that we had,” one worker was seen telling investigators.

“We had three guns going at one time,” Munns said.

The body camera footage showed Munns explaining they fired approximately 15 rounds, using three different calibers, before the rhino dropped dead.

FWC investigators took this photo of spent shell casings from the shooting of a white rhino at Wild Florida. (Courtesy: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

Munns told investigators they then dug a hole and buried the animal.

“Out of fear that a helicopter might spot the rhino, they dug a hole, placed the rhino in it and covered it most of the way, leaving a portion of the head exposed for us to observe upon our arrival,” FWC investigators wrote.

“We did everything we could to not have to kill this animal,” Munns was heard telling investigators. “That’s what it came down to.”

FWC took this photo showing the exposed head of a white rhino which was buried after being shot and killed at Wild Florida. (Courtesy: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

There are currently 18,000 white rhinos in existence, according to the Word Wildlife Federation. They are now classified as “near threatened” and are the only rhino species that are not classified as “endangered.”

FWC determined there was no state law violated.

“Our rules don’t prohibit you from doing what you did,” an FWC investigator was heard saying in the body worn camera footage. “So, from a lethal take of the animal from a public safety point-of-view, the FWC rules don’t prohibit that.”

FWC urged Munns to report the incident to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which enforces the Federal Animal Welfare Act.

News 6 investigated and uncovered Wild Florida received an official warning from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in relation to a separate incident in March 2022.

An inspector cited the escape of four Aoudads, or Barbary Sheep, as the reason.

“In January 2020, seven Aoudads were released onto the facility’s property without closing the appropriate gates,” the report read. “Four Aoudads managed to escape; two were killed by hunters and two were eventually killed by the licensee after chemical immobilization attempts failed.”

FWC took this photo of one of four Aoudads which escaped Wild Florida in 2020. (Courtesy: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

The official warning contained the following language: “If APHIS obtains evidence of any future violation of these federal regulations, APHIS may pursue civil penalties, criminal prosecution, or other sanctions for this alleged violation(s) and for any future violation(s).”

The USDA confirmed to News 6 they inspected Wild Florida in December 2022, but a spokesman would not confirm or deny they were conducting an investigation into the rhino shooting.

Results from that inspection have not been made public yet.

News 6 contacted Wild Florida to further explain what happened and to ask why the staff did not choose to shoot with a tranquilizer.

Co-owner Sam Haught declined to speak on-camera, but he provided the following statement:

“For more than 12 years, Wild Florida’s mission has been to provide an unforgettable Everglades experience that promotes a connection with animals while inspiring education and conservation. Unfortunately, we are sometimes faced with unforeseen situations and circumstances that require an immediate response to ensure the continued safety of visitors, staff, neighbors, and, most importantly, animals in our care.

In September 2022, a new rhino began to pose an imminent danger to the park at large, and after consultation with leadership and Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) guidelines, we made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize the animal.

As an organization, Wild Florida will continue providing the best care for our animal family and promote the importance of conservation through our educational programs.”

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About the Author:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.