How a Little Girl Stumbled at a Rhino Exhibit and Was Nearly Crushed

Playing 2-Year-Old Recovering After Falling Into Florida Zoo's Rhino Exhibit

A rhino exhibit at a zoo in Florida is under scrutiny after a little girl stumbled through the bars, coming into contact with one of the animals.

The 2-year-girl was taking part in an interactive program called the "Rhino Encounter" at the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne. The program allows visitors to interact with the rhinos through a fence that features steel bars spread 11 inches apart. 

The little girl accidentally stumbled through the bars, touching one of the rhinos. Her father was able to pull her back to safety.

The program is only for children over the age of 3, according to the zoo. It's not clear how the 2-year-old girl was allowed to participate.

"The snout of at least one of rhinoceroses made contact with the child," zoo spokesman Elliot Zirulnik told local CBS affiliate WKMG-TV.

"Our No. 1 concern is the safety and welfare of our guests and our hearts go out to the family," the zoo's executive director Keith Winsten told CBS News. "Safety has always been of paramount importance to us and we are suspending these encounters until we have thoroughly reviewed our processes and procedures to ensure this cannot happen again."

On Wednesday, the family released a statement saying their daughter is in good care. 

"Yesterday was a trying day for our family. 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. 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 statement said. 

Ron Magill is communications director at Zoo Miami, where there's an almost identical rhino exhibit, with one major difference: There are steel cables preventing visitors from getting through the bars.

“After hearing about this, we're gonna reevaluate,” he told Inside Edition. “Every zoo is.” 

The incident is a reminder of how a fun day at the zoo can quickly turn disastrous when little kids are involved.

A 4-year-old boy climbed into the gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2016, and spectators watched in horror as Harambe the gorilla dragged him through the water. Harambe was shot dead and the boy was unharmed.

Rhinos are powerful beasts. They can weigh 3 tons and charge at 30 miles an hour. 

But Magill defended programs that allow visitors to interact with rhinos. “These encounters are so important,” he said. “This encounter teaches people to love animals to understand them this is not a pet.”

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