Tot hurt by rhinos was in zoo enclosure about 10 seconds, report finds

/ CBS News

Florida rhino exhibit closed to visitors

Melbourne, Fla. – The toddler who fell into the Brevard Zoo rhinoceros exhibit on New Year's Day was only in the enclosure for a matter of seconds and suffered serious injuries when the rhinos were startled and pushed the girl with their snouts, according to the final report issued by state wildlife investigators.

CBS Orlando affiliate WKMG-TV reports the girl and her parents were participating in a hands-on experience with the rhinos, accompanied by zookeepers, when she slipped between the poles and entered the yard with the 2-ton animals.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released the full report Wednesday after interviewing the 21-month-old girl's parents, zookeepers and other zoo officials to determine what led to the incident.

Among the report's key takeaways:

— The girl was in the rhino enclosure for about 10 seconds.

— Two female rhinos became spooked and repeatedly pushed the girl with their snouts.

— The child suffered internal injuries and head and body bruises

— There was no video captured the incident.

— There was a small delay in response time due to a radio signal issue with the zoo base

Brevard Zoo rhinoceros exhibit where a 2-year-old girl was injured after falling into it on Jan. 1, 2019 Brevard Zoo, Melbourne, Fla. / Wkmg-tv

Margaret "Peggy" Kunkle was named in the 59-page report because she contacted investigators to report a similar incident she said happened 10 years ago when she visited the rhinoceros encounter with her grandchildren.

"They should have done something about it a long time ago because I talked to them when my granddaughter, Hailee, who was 5 at the time, slipped through the bars," Kunkle said.

Kunkle said her granddaughter was brushing a rhino when she slipped through the steel bars.

"All of a sudden, I turned around and saw her and about had a heart attack, and I just reached for her and grabbed her and snatched her," Kunkle said.

The detailed report found that, before the encounter with the rhinos, the zookeeper explained the rules to the family and the parents listened and understood them before entering the exhibit. Two zookeepers accompanied the family into the enclosure and said the parents paid attention to their daughter the whole time.

About 10 minutes into the rhino experience, the girl was using a brush to touch one of the female rhinos when she stumbled and fell face-first through the bars, the FWC report said. The bars are about a foot apart.

The zoo said at the time of the incident that the "Rhino Encounters" had been held daily without incident for about a decade. Officials told WKMG the rhinoceros involved wouldn't be punished in any way.

The zoo is about 50 miles southeast of Orlando.

First published on January 31, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Tot hurt by rhinos was in zoo enclosure about 10 secs: Probe

2-year-old girl suffered serious injuries when spooked rhinos pushed her with their snouts after she slipped through bars into enclosure, state report finds

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