A 2,000-pound white rhinoceros has been shot and killed at a Florida safari park after it ‘aggressively’ escaped from its enclosure – staff claiming it could have ‘killed other animals.’
Bodycam footage in the moments after the shooting shows Wild Florida Drive-Thru Safari Park general manager Jordan Munns explaining that the behavior of the rhino indicated it was going to cause harm to other animals, forcing staff to stop it.
‘The way he was acting inside the pen, he was going to burn through a couple animals, kill them, and then get out, and there was no chance we’re going have that,’ he said.
The three-year-old mammal was killed in September last year, a day before it was brought to the park for its scheduled debut of their new rhino exhibit.
Staff deployed 15 rounds, using three different calibers, before the colossal beast dropped dead, then dug a huge hole to bury it in.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said in a report obtained by News 6 that they’d received an anonymous tip about the shooting which launched a probe into the incident.
Munns said the next morning, he and other staff members watched as the animal worked to escape from its secondary enclosure, once free, it ran into a grove of cypress trees inside the park.
‘We were so close to catching him that we didn’t want to shoot him right on the spot, but I said if four feet touch the ground on the other side of this wire, he’s done,’ Munns was heard telling investigators.
‘We came up flying up here, he was still maybe 10 or 12 trees in, and we started shooting.’
Munns said that staff used ‘the biggest guns’ they had and that they had ‘three guns going at one time.’
While the calf had been only three, it took about 15 rounds and three different calibers to finally kill the rare animal.
‘Out of fear that a helicopter might spot the rhino, they dug a hole, placed the rhino in it and covered it most of the way, leaving a portion of the head exposed for us to observe upon our arrival,’ FWC investigators wrote.
‘We did everything we could to not have to kill this animal,’ Munns was heard telling investigators.
‘[But] that’s what it came down to.’
There are currently only 18,000 white rhinos in existence, according to the World Wildlife Federation and they’re considered ‘near threatened’ and the only rhino species not classified as ‘endangered.’
In comments of a Facebook post made by Wild Florida, most users appeared to be understanding of the decision but some were disgusted given how close the animal is to extinction.
One user said: ‘This is an endangered animal. One that is practically blind (yes. White rhinos can’t see very far in front of them) and poses little threat to people and other animals.
‘With the proper enclosures and procedures this shouldn’t have happened. As a zoo it’s your responsibility to ensure the safety of the animals and visitors. And both seemed to have been compromised.’
Another user said, boycotting the park: ‘I am disturbed by this entire situation. The rhino had been in the park approximately 24 hours, so was most likely anxious.
‘With time and a better enclosure, he might have settled. The optics are bad. It appears he was hunted down and shot. Is this ‘humanely euthanized’? Was a veterinarian consulted to consider options like sedation? Could he have been transferred to a zoo or wildlife park equipped to handle him?
‘There are only 18,000 white rhinos left in the world. They are a threatened species. I have been to Wild Florida, and enjoyed it. I will not return.’
Meanwhile some questioned why tranquillizers weren’t considered before killing the animal, a similar sentiment which emerged when beloved 400-pound Gorilla, Harambe was shot and killed in 2016.
A user said: ‘No tranquilizer guns? No safety protocol put in place before this animal was brought in? Disgusting failure to uphold your responsibility to these creatures.’
The FWC determined that no state law had been violated but urged Munns to report the incident to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which enforces the Federal Animal Welfare Act.
‘Our rules don’t prohibit you from doing what you did,’ an FWC investigator was heard saying in the body worn camera footage.
‘So, from a lethal take of the animal from a public safety point-of-view, the FWC rules don’t prohibit that.’
News 6 discovered that Wild Florida has received an official warning from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in relation to a separate incident in March last year.
An inspector told the outlet that the escape of four Aoudads, or Barbary Sheep, were the reason.
‘In January 2020, seven Aoudads were released onto the facility’s property without closing the appropriate gates,’ the report obtained by News 6 read.
‘Four Aoudads managed to escape; two were killed by hunters and two were eventually killed by the licensee after chemical immobilization attempts failed.’
The official warning stated: ‘If APHIS obtains evidence of any future violation of these federal regulations, APHIS may pursue civil penalties, criminal prosecution, or other sanctions for this alleged violation(s) and for any future violation(s).’
The USDA told News 6 that Wild Florida were inspected in Dec 2022, but a spokesperson did not confirm whether an investigation into the rhino shooting had taken place.
In a statement posted online Wild Florida wrote: ‘For more than 12 years, Wild Florida’s mission has been to provide an unforgettable Everglades experience that promotes a connection with animals while inspiring education and conservation.’
‘Unfortunately, we are sometimes faced with unforeseen situations and circumstances that require an immediate response to ensure the continued safety of visitors, staff, neighbors, and, most importantly, animals in our care.
‘In September 2022, a new rhino began to pose an imminent danger to the park at large, and after consultation with leadership and Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) guidelines, we made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize the animal.
‘As an organization, Wild Florida will continue providing the best care for our animal family and promote the importance of conservation through our educational programs.’
DailyMail have contacted Wild Florida, FWC and USDA for comment.
It comes years after beloved 400-pound Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla, Harambe, was fatally shot after a four-year-old boy crawled past the railing of his enclosure and fell 15ft into the gorilla exhibit moat.
The public mourned Harambe, who many believed had been ‘acting protecting’ the young boy, the zoo director at the time confirming that the boy was not under attack.
Video of the incident emerged showing the boy reaching for Harambe’s arm the pair briefly holding hands.
Many have blamed the boy’s parents for 17-year-old Harambe’s death and the Zoo’s director commenting at the time that tranquilizer would have taken too long with the possibility of agitating the animal even more.
This article by Aneeta Bhole was first published by The Daily Mail on 31 January 2023. Lead Image: A 2,000-pound white rhinoceros calf has been shot and killed at a Florida safari park after it ‘aggressively’ escaped from its enclosure – staff claiming it could have ‘killed other animals’.
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