JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The zookeeper struck by a white rhinoceros last month at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens was kneeling, giving a food reward with her arm extended into the pen when the animal hit her, flinging her through the bars separating them before striking her again once she was in the pen, according to a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission report released Friday.
The zookeeper, Pamela Robie, 31, was hospitalized after the Feb. 26 incident but was released the next day to recover at home. She is in good spirits and expected to return to work soon, the zoo said.
The FWC, which has jurisdiction over wildlife facilities in the state, found Robie was separated from the rhino by horizontal bars, but fell forward when something spooked the 50-year-old rhino named Archie. She was initially struck, then struck again once she was in the pen with the 4,000-pound animal.
"She remembered the feeling of tossing and tumbling while trying to get to her feet," the investigator wrote.
Archie dragged her out of the chute and into the holding yard before Robie could yell, "He's got me," to get the attention of a second zookeeper, who distracted the rhino long enough for Robie to get back into the chute and the second person was able to close the gate.
The report said the incident was over in about 10 seconds and Robie never lost consciousness.
"(Archie) charged forward his horn, got her kind of hooked. He lifted her off the ground, dropped her there," Tony Vecchio, the zoo's executive director said while showing News4Jax the area where it happened. "If he had run into her, he would’ve done a lot of damage. ... He struck her again from the front while she was up against these bars and by then she was able to crawl in here, not crawl but crab walk back into this area, and by then the other keeper had come around and was able to close the door."
"There was never a threat to the public," the FWC report stated, adding there were no violations noted.
Vecchio said something must have scared Archie to prompt him to strike a person.
"He wasn’t attacking anybody," Vecchio said. "I've seen that term used. He’s not an attack rhino. He was a scared and confused rhino."
Archie was born in 1969 and has been at the Jacksonville zoo since 1975. Zoo officials said Archie remains on exhibit with other rhinos.
The zoo said it won’t be making any changes to the chute but is reviewing procedures and making sure all employees are on the same page on safety standards.