Zoo to implement changes after accident at rhinoceros exhibit

The Brevard Zoo on Thursday announced it will be implementing changes to improve public safety at a rhinoceros exhibit following the injury of a toddler who fell into the enclosure earlier this month.

A zoo spokesman said they have received a report from the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission, detailing their investigation into the incident.  

"The zoo continues to work in conjunction with the Commission on procedural changes and to identify the best protective barrier," said Keith Winsten, executive director. "One of these barrier options being considered is a panel of netting that would be hung up prior to any guests entering the encounter area." 

FWC officers took sworn statements from the two keepers who led the rhino encounter and also spoke with the zoo’s deputy director, Jon Brangan.  According to the zoo, FWC confirmed that the encounter area was in compliance with state regulations. Another officer went to the hospital and took statements from the family of the toddler who was injured.

A day earlier, it was reported that the toddler suffered more extensive injuries than originally thought. On New Year's Day, a rhino encounter turned into a mad dash to save a child's life.    Zoo keepers and the girl's father says that the toddler lost her balance and fell between the metal posts, which are about eight inches apart. 

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However, when she fell, the report says that she startled two of the three rhinos. They began to strike her with their snouts repeatedly. This caused the child to be pushed into the steel posts multiple times. 

The report goes on to say that girl's dad pulled her back up. His arm and her mother's arm were both pinned against the bars as they reached for their daughter. 

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A zookeeper says that the child was inside the enclosure for approximately ten seconds. 

The Brevard Zoo initially thought the girl only had a bruise on her face, but when the toddler got to the hospital, the report says that there was a lot more going on. She had contusions to her chest, abdomen, back, and behind her right ear extending to the back of her head ,a bump on her forehead, a bruised lung, and a lacerated liver. She also had a bruised lung and lacerated liver.

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The girl's mother suffered a severe bruise to her arm while trying to free the toddler.


Winsten said the zoo is now considering different options to improve the safety of the enclosure, including the netting.

"The netting would be 36 inches tall from the ground up and provide a continuous barricade across all steel posts," he said.

The Brevard Zoo said it will not reopen the encounter until all measures are approved and in place.

"Our zoo is a place of wonder and joy and we feel terrible that this accident happened at our facility,” Winsten added. “We are committed to always improving our safety measures which is why we are going to make changes to the area so that this can never happen again.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.