MIAMI – A child falling into a rhino exhibit at the Brevard Zoo this week was a huge wake-up call to employees at Zoo Miami, according to Zoo Miami spokesman Ron Magill.
The greater one-horned rhino is docile by nature and is considered a gentle giant, but it's still a wild animal.
Magill believes a lot can be learned from the endangered species.
"This is a special experience," Magill said about the zoo's up-close rhino encounter. "This is an unforgettable experience for somebody, especially for a child, to be able to make that kind of connection, to understand that these animals are special and the fact that they need to be protected."
Metal bars spaced 11 inches apart separate the animals from Zoo Miami visitors, who are allowed to get close enough to feed the rhinos.
The distance is wide enough for the rhino's head to peek through, but the space also makes it possible for a child to slip through, as in the case involving a 2-year-old girl in Brevard County on Tuesday.
Zoo Miami already had tougher safety measures in place, with steel cables acting as a barrier outside of the metal bars, and now they're evaluating what more they can do.
"We're probably going to add more cables to this area. Make it even more closed-in to prevent any kid from crawling under," Magill said. "Understand that the experience here is a little different than that. We only allow one person at a time. Only one person at a time can come in here and feed the rhino, and during that time, there is always an attendant right next to them."
At the end of the day, being up close and personal with the rhinos allows people, especially children, to develop a sense of appreciation and respect for the animals, which are often hunted and killed for their horn.
"I hope the changes don't go to the extent where they say we can't have this type of experience anymore," Magill said.