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Rhino at Austrian zoo attacks couple, killing the woman and hurting the man as he helped her

Zoo director Sabine Grebner said the 33-year-old woman, a German citizen from Bavaria, had been assigned to put insect repellent on the rhino.
Emergency workers respond to an incident at the Hellbrunn Zoo in Salzburg, Austria, on Sept. 12, 2023.
Emergency workers respond to an incident at the Hellbrunn Zoo in Salzburg, Austria, on Tuesday.Markus Tschepp / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

BERLIN — A rhinoceros attacked a married couple working as zookeepers in Austria on Tuesday, killing the woman and seriously injuring the man as he attempted to save her, authorities said.

The attack happened at the Hellbrunn Zoo in the western Austrian city of Salzburg.

Zoo director Sabine Grebner told reporters that the 33-year-old woman, a German citizen from Bavaria, was assigned that day to put insect repellent on the rhino’s body because they are very sensitive to insect bites.

The 30-year-old female rhino, Jeti, attacked the keeper though it was not clear why, Austria’s APA news agency cited Grebner as saying.

Salzburg police said the woman “succumbed to her injuries at the scene of the accident.” Attempts to resuscitate her were not successful.

The other zookeeper, a 34-year-old Austrian citizen who was feeding other animals at the time, was also attacked and injured when he tried to chase the rhino away from his wife. The woman suffered severe chest trauma while her husband had a fractured leg and was taken to a hospital, APA reported.

The names of the two zookeepers were not released in line with Austrian privacy rules.

The man, a trained animal keeper, has worked at the zoo since 2008, and his wife, a certified animal keeper, since 2014. Previously, she was employed in Munich, the zoo director said.

The zoo director said she was known to be “very careful and thoughtful with the animals, and she had an extremely good sense” when dealing with them.

Grebner said the exact circumstances of how the attack occurred had yet to be determined.

“Maybe there was some kind of irritation,” she said. “We are deeply upset and shocked.”

All safety regulations will be reevaluated, she said, adding that there had been no previous incidents at the rhino enclosure, which was set up nearly 30 years ago.

Grebner said Jeti weighs 1.8 tons and has been at the zoo since 2009. She said the rhino was cooperative and had never been boisterous. She took on the role of an aunt to the young animals and gave birth to a cub herself in 2015.

Salzburg Zoo has four rhinos — three females and one bull, APA reported.

“The animals are very cooperative and have been at Salzburg Zoo for a very long time,” the zoo director said. She said all of the rhinos respond to handling, come from outside into the rhino house when they are called by their names, and veterinarians can take their blood without anesthesia, APA reported.

Police are investigating the attack, the news agency said.

The zoo will remain closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.