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Toddler suffered liver and lung injuries after falling into Florida zoo's rhino exhibit, report says

Posted: 9:38 AM, Jan 31, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-31 12:38:34-05

Two rhinos rammed a toddler with their snouts after she fell into an exhibit at Florida's Brevard Zoo, and the girl suffered a lacerated liver and bruised lung, wildlife officials said.

The 21-month-old also suffered contusions to her chest during the New Year's Day incident, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission report said. Photos from the incident show the baby in a hospital bed with a neck brace and breathing tube. Her right cheek, right hip and navel area are visibly injured.

The 29-page report released Wednesday includes an interview with the zoo supervisor in charge of the exhibit, who told investigators the girl "somehow fell backwards into the enclosure," perhaps after losing her balance. She had been petting the rhinos through the steel bars of the enclosure, according to the report.

Her father reached into the rhino enclosure and grabbed her, and as he attempted to pull her back to safety, two rhinos rammed her repeatedly with their noses and mouths, pressing her into the steel bars, the report said.

Zoo employees told investigators the girl was in the enclosure for about 10 seconds, the report said. In the area where the girl fell through, the space between the bars is about 8 inches, the report said.

The girl's mother suffered an arm injury, while the father suffered scrapes and contusions to his right arm. Their daughter spent five days in the hospital recovering from her injuries.

The exhibit is part of what the zoo billed as a close-up experience with white rhinos. The family was allowed to touch and brush the rhinos under the supervision of two zookeepers, the zoo said at the time.

Following the incident, the father released a statement through Orlando Health thanking people for their concern about his family.

"Our daughter is in good care at Arnold Palmer Hospital (for Children) and is doing well. My wife was also treated for her injury and has been released from the hospital. At this time, we ask for privacy as we focus on our daughter's recovery."

The zoo, located in Melbourne, had offered the rhino experience daily since 2009 without any issues, it said. Officials suspended the rhino encounter and "all other premium experiences" pending a safety review, officials said.

"Probably, we'll add some horizontal pieces, which would prevent" people from slipping or squeezing between the vertical poles, said Keith Winsten, the zoo's executive director.