Florida zookeeper taken to hospital after rhinoceros strikes her with horn

PHOTO: Rhinos stand in an enclosure at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in an image made from video, Feb. 26, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla.PlayWJAX
WATCH Zookeeper struck in stomach by rhino

A zookeeper in Florida was struck by a rhinoceros during "routine rhino training" and taken to a hospital for evaluation, according to the zoo.

The incident occurred shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday, Jacksonville Zoo Executive Director Tony Vecchio said during a news conference Tuesday.

"We are still investigating the situation," he said.

The zoo is evaluating the accident and reviewing protocols to better understand the circumstances surrounding today's event, the zoo said in a statement.

Vecchio said the training occurred with all zoo animals every day and did not believe there was any video of the session.

The zookeeper, who was not identified, was struck by the rhinoceros' horn, Vecchio said.

He did not say where she was struck.

The training was in the back of the rhinoceros barn and away from people when the incident happened.

The zookeeper was not alone and was working as part of a team, he said.

PHOTO: Rhinos stand in an enclosure at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in an image made from video, Feb. 26, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. WJAX
Rhinos stand in an enclosure at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in an image made from video, Feb. 26, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla.

She was awake, alert and talking after the incident, he said.

The zoo released a statement later Tuesday that said the zookeeper has notified the zoo that "everything is okay."

"We are extremely relieved and happy to know that our colleague is doing well. We are grateful for the outpouring of support and concern during this difficult time," Vecchio said.

The rhinoceros is the zoo's Southern white male and is named Archie. He was born in 1969 and has been at the zoo since 1975.

PHOTO: Archie the rhino is pictured circa 2014 in a photo released by the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. John Reed Photography
Archie the rhino is pictured circa 2014 in a photo released by the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

He is the biggest rhinoceros in the zoo’s exhibit and a "well-known character," Vecchio said.

The zookeeper has been with the zoo for a few years, he said.

The executive director said that the 50-year-old rhinoceros was never out of containment and that there were no safety concerns for zoo visitors. The rhinoceros exhibit was open and Archie was on display there.

In January, a 2-year-old girl was injured when she fell into a rhinoceros exhibit at Florida's Brevard Zoo in Melbourne on New Year's Day.

During a zookeeper-led event, the toddler stumbled and fell between steel poles separating people from the animals, and the snout of "at least one of the rhinoceroses made contact" with her, the zoo said.

The child, who was taken to a hospital, was later discharged.