Girl, 2, hospitalized after falling into rhino exhibit at Florida zoo

The incident happened during a hands-on, educational experience at the zoo called a Rhino Encounter.
Image: The child fell through these bars at the rhino enclosure at the Brevard Zoo in Florida on Jan. 1, 2019.
The child fell through these bars at the rhino enclosure at the Brevard Zoo in Florida on Jan. 1, 2019.Dan Billow / WESH

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By Minyvonne Burke, Nicole Duarte and Shamar Walters

A 2-year-old girl who slipped and fell into a rhino exhibit Tuesday at a Florida zoo was rushed to a hospital after coming into contact with one of the animal's snouts, zoo officials said.

The child was taken to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and is "doing well," her dad said in a statement.

"Today has been a trying day for our family," the father said in a statement released from the hospital.

The child’s mother was taken to Orlando Regional medical center with "non-critical injuries" to her arm, Brevard County Fire Rescue department said in a tweet. The statement from the father, whose name wasn't released, said his wife was later released from the hospital.

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The incident happened at the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne during a hands-on, educational experience called a Rhino Encounter, according to a statement from zoo spokesperson Elliot Zirulnik. Each session, led by a zookeeper, lasts about 20 minutes and is open to guests ages 3 and up, according to its website.

"During the encounter, participants and the rhinoceroses are separated by a series of steel poles. According to witnesses, the child stumbled and fell in between two of the poles and at this point, the snout of at least one of rhinoceroses made contact with the child," according to the statement.

One woman who was at the zoo saw the girl and parents immediately after the incident.

"The dad was holding the little girl and they brought her up and took her out," Samantha Henkle told NBC News. "She was crying, she looked frightened.

"The mom wasn't crying, she just looked shocked."

The zoo, which houses more than 900 animals, has hosted the Rhino Encounter since 2009, the statement said. Keith Winsten, the executive director of the zoo, said in a statement that it would be suspended until they have “thoroughly reviewed our processes and procedures to ensure this cannot happen again.”

“Our number one concern is the safety and welfare of our guests and our hearts go out to the family,” he said.

The incident comes days after 22-year-old Alexandra Black was killed in a lion attack at a zoo in North Carolina. Black was an intern at the Conservators Center in Burlington and was cleaning an animal enclosure when the lion escaped from a locked gate, officials said.