An exciting day at the zoo went horribly amiss for one toddler in Melbourne, Florida. The 2-year-old girl was with her family, partaking in a private rhino encounter experience at Brevard Zoo when she accidentally took a tumble into the rhinoceros' yard and was injured before her father could get her out. Now her story is being shared online as a warning to others about what can happen if you take your eyes off your child for even a moment—but many people are just blaming the parents.
The incident occurred while the family of three was enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: the chance to get up close with some rhinos.
The unnamed girl and her family had gone to the zoo on Tuesday to take part in a special close-up experience with the Brevard Zoo's rhino exhibit. According to CNN, the girl and her two parents were given the chance to touch and brush the rhinos in a supervised area of the zoo while two staff members supervised the interactions. The animals were only separated from the humans by steel posts that were reportedly 11 inches apart. But the curious little kiddo slipped through the posts to get a closer look at the giant animals.
Brevard Zoo's marketing and communications director, Andrea Hill, confirmed that the child managed to get through the posts and made it into the rhinos' yard. A spokesman from the zoo, Elliot Zirulnik, explained to WFTV 9 that according to witnesses, the girl "stumbled and fell" between two of the poles.
As rhinos approached the toddler, "the snout of at least one of (the) rhinoceroses made contact with the child," Zirulnik said. Her father was reportedly near when the incident happened and the girl was retrieved in a "matter of seconds."
The bump left the girl with a small abrasion on her face and the family quickly rushed her to the hospital to be checked out. The girl was transported to the hospital via ambulance under a trauma alert and her current condition is unknown. It's also been reported that her mother was taken to the hospital as well for an injury to her arm.
The zoo also clarified that the girl did not not fall from an elevated public area into the pen. According to the zoo, this is the first time an incident like this happened since the exhibit started in 2009. Keith Winsten, Brevard Zoo's executive director, assured reporters that their top concern "is the safety and welfare of our guests and our hearts go out to the family. 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."
The little girl's dad spoke out about the incident in a statement given by Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, thanking people for their concern. "Today has been a trying day for our family," he said. "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."
For now, other visits to the rhino experience have been suspended.
Since the story broke, many have been quick to blame the parents.
"Perfect example of reckless parenting. Period. No, I won't debate you. Moving on to the next headline," one user commented.
"Stay the f*ck off ya phones and pay attention to ya f*cking kids," another person wrote.
"The parents should be held responsible for this incident. A parent MUST at all time keep an eye on their kids, especially a toddler!! I understand the parents wanted to share this experience with their child, but I don't think it was the best attraction to expose them to," one user added.
Others felt that this was a bad idea from the start and bound to happen...
"I mean ... 2-year-olds and rhinos do the same damage to a room but one is significantly larger than the other, why would you want the two within the same vicinity?" one person wrote.
"Generally if a 2-year-old girl 'encounters' a rhino, it's not going to go well," another added.
For many, it brought up memories of Harambe, a gorilla who was killed after a 3-year-old boy fell into an enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.
Many people blamed the child's parents for Harambe's death and don't want the rhino blamed the same way the gorilla was. However, the zoo addressed the issue in a statement saying that the "welfare of the rhinos was never compromised and they will not be 'punished' in any way."
"Thank God the Rhino was not killed because of neglectful parents," another user commented.
But others are sticking up for the parents and defending them against haters.
Then there are those who think the zoo is at fault for letting a toddler in and not having a better fence.
"The fault is with the Zoo. 11-inch spacing? Who approved that?" one person wrote.
And no matter who you think is at fault, some are reminding people not to be so quick to judge.
This post was originally published on mom.me sister site CafeMom.