PARIS — An elephant hurled a stone in the direction of visitors at a zoo in Morocco, killing a 7-year-old girl.
The behavior of the female elephant was "abnormal" and needs to be understood, a veterinarian at the site said Friday.
The girl was visiting the Zoological Garden of Rabat with her family on Tuesday, admiring three elephants when one picked up a stone, then tossed it more than 10 yards over a ditch and a wooden barrier toward the visitors. The girl was struck in the head and died hours later.
The elephant exhibit has been temporarily closed, zoo veterinarian Abderahim Salhi said by telephone. He said that zoo personnel remained in shock three days later at what he called an "unforeseeable accident."
"The behavior ... of any animal is very complex and wild animals are unpredictable, he said. "We are all surprised. We don't yet understand."
The zoo was designed to show animals living in replicas of their natural habitat — but with no direct contact with visitors, Salhi said. Stones are plentiful inside the elephant habitat, as they would be in their natural surroundings.
The female elephant heaved the stone with force, officials said.
"We are very sad at what happened, but it would be wrong to blame the elephant. This was not premeditated," said Salma Slimani, who is in charge of zoo administration.