DENVER (CBS4) – A Denver Zoo visitor was taken to the hospital on Wednesday after she was bitten by a rhinoceros.
The woman was breathing, conscious and aware of what happened when she was taken away in an ambulance but it isn’t clear what the extent of her injury is beyond that she hurt her hand.
The incident happened on Wednesday afternoon during a public feeding program. The zoo says Mshindi the black rhino bit the woman on the finger.
“Our sympathy goes out to the victim, that’s probably the biggest thing for us is we feel horrible that this has happened,” said Brian Aucone, the Denver Zoo’s vice president for animal care.
Zoo officials said Mshindi has been hand-fed by visitors regularly in the past and they believe the incident was an accident.
“We’ve been doing this for years and years with him. There’s thousands of different people that have done this with him. I’ve done it myself many, many times,” Aucone told CBS4.
The rhino encounter program at the Denver Zoo has been going on for years for special guests and other zoo VIPs. The zoo only recently started allowing regular visitors to take part in the activity as a paid experience.
The rhino encounter program is now suspended indefinitely and Mshindi has been taken off the exhibit during the investigation. Zoo officials said they want to review all of their protocols.
“Mshindi is not in trouble. We don’t believe that it was aggressive. We believe this was an accident,” Aucone said.
Mshindi was born at the Denver Zoo and is nearly 18 years old.
Black rhinos are on the critically endangered species list.
Other zoos across the country operate similar rhino feeding programs, including the San Diego Zoo. At that zoo they warn participants in the program to remove rings, watches and bracelets because the rhino’s mouth can grip someone’s arm and take such items off.