TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A white rhinoceros was shot dead less than a day after it arrived at a Florida wildlife park last year, wildlife officials said this week.
According to a report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the incident occurred Sept. 19 at Wild Florida, a gator and drive-thru safari park about 60 miles south of Orlando in Kenansville. The park acknowledged the incident in a Facebook post on Monday.
The report said FWC investigators were called to the park about a week later after getting an anonymous tip that called the shooting “animal abuse” and “unnecessary.”
The animal was delivered to the park the day prior and was “acting very wild,” the park’s owner, Jordan Munns, told investigators. The animal was crated on a trailer, then released into a fenced-in lockdown area within the rhino enclosure, where it would stay until it was ready to be released into the full containment area.
Munns said they observed the animal “acting aggressively” as it tried to climb over the enclosure. It eventually climbed over a guardrail to escape the lockdown area and entered the main containment area. The rhino tested the cable fence and hot wire surrounding the enclosure, but eventually calmed down and spent the night resting in the main containment area, the report said. The park was closed the next day to give it time to acclimate.
However, the next morning, the rhino began acting wild again and continued to test the fence. Staff tried to reinforce the fence by attaching more guardrail material to the top of it. They decided to shoot the animal if it breached the enclosure again.
The rhino continued to test the fence and was able to push through the hot wire and breach its containment, the report said.
Armed with high-powered rifles, staff chased the animal to a nearby cypress stand and opened fire.
“The rhino was hit several times (by gunshots) but was still able to exit the cypress stand and head east,” the report said. “It made it to the perimeter fence (and) they followed and continued shooting it. … After following it and shooting it for approximately 1/3 mile, the rhino fell and died.”
“They estimated fifteen rounds were fired at the rhino based on the shell casings they collected,” the report said.
Once the animal was dead, staff loaded it onto a trailer and drove it to a property where other animals are buried.
“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.”
The rhino “was in healthy condition” before it was killed, the report said. No action was taken against the park.
The park issued a statement, saying in part, “For more than twelve 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.”