Brevard Zoo reopens Rhino Encounter 3 years after 2-year-old injured

Girl was participating in a hands-on experience with rhinos at Melbourne zoo

MELBOURNE, Fla. – The Brevard Zoo on Friday announced the reopening of its Rhino Encounter, more than three years after a 2-year-old girl was injured by a southern white rhinoceros after falling into the pen that houses the animals.

In a Facebook post, the Melbourne zoo said, “We’re excited to be bringing back Rhino Encounter, a special opportunity for our Zoo guests to meet our favorite crash of rhinos! Rhino Encounter will be offered at noon Thursdays through Sundays. Tickets can be purchased at the Zoo.”

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After the January 2019 incident, a spokesman for the zoo said the girl was participating in a hands-on experience with the rhinos when she fell backward between the poles and entered the yard with the animals.

“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,” zoo spokesman Elliot Zirulnik said in an email.

The snout is not the horn of the rhino but is below the horn, near the rhino’s mouth, Zirulnik said.

The girl was rescued by her father and rushed to the front of the zoo where they were met by Brevard County Fire Rescue crews. The child was airlifted to Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital in Orlando, but the extent of her injuries were never released.

The family released a statement after the incident.

“(Tuesday) has been a trying day for our family,” the girl’s father said. “We’re thankful to everyone who has reached out with their concerns. Our daughter is in good care at Arnold Palmer Hospital and is doing well. We ask for privacy as we focus on our daughter’s recovery.”

In a statement after the incident, zoo officials said the rhino encounters had been suspended until a safety review was completed.

“Our No. 1 concern is the safety and welfare of our guests, and our hearts go out to the family,” said Keith Winsten, the zoo’s executive director. “Safety has always been of paramount importance to us.”

The experience had been offered daily since 2009 and no other incidents had been reported, the zoo said.

The Brevard Zoo, which houses more than 900 animals, is about 55 miles southeast of Orlando.

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Daniel started with WKMG-TV in 2000 and became the digital content manager in 2009. When he's not working on, Daniel likes to head to the beach or find a sporting event nearby.