Child slips into rhino pen, touched by animal’s snout

(Reuters) – A little girl entered the rhinoceros exhibit at a Florida zoo by slipping between two poles, and at least one of the massive pachyderms touched the child with its snout, officials said on Tuesday.

Both the child, a toddler about 2 years old, and her mother were taken to hospitals but it was not immediately clear whether any injuries were related to contact with the 4,500-pound (2,000-kg) animals, zoo officials said.

“According to witnesses, the child stumbled and fell 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 a statement.

The snout refers to the area near the rhino’s mouth, not the horn, zoo spokeswoman Andrea Hill said.

The family was participating in a twice-daily public encounter with the rhinos, in which people pet and touch the animals with a brush at ground level. The exhibit had been functioning since 2009 without incident but has been suspended pending a review of operating procedures, Hill said.

The child was in her father’s grasp when she somehow slipped between poles that are 11 inches (28 cm) apart near where the female rhinos were eating, Hill said. Both parents reached into the pen and were able to retrieve the girl, who had an abrasion on her cheek. The mother complained of arm pain, Hill said.

The zoo is in Melbourne, on the east coast of Florida about 60 miles (100 km) southeast of Orlando.

The girl and her mother were taken to hospitals, Brevard County Fire Rescue said on Twitter. The girl was taken to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, local media reported. A hospital spokeswoman said she could not comment without the girl’s name, which zoo officials did not provide.

The incident was reminiscent of one in 2016 when small boy climbed into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and was grabbed by a gorilla named Harambe. In that case, however, zoo officials shot Harambe dead in order to retrieve the boy.

Reporting by Daniel Trotta; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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