White rhino acting "wild" shot and killed at Florida park last year
Workers at a Florida wildlife park shot and killed a white rhinoceros less than 24 hours after its arrival at the park last September, a report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission found.
Investigators were called to the Wild Florida park about a week later following an anonymous tip that stated the shooting of the rhino was unnecessary. The report said no action was taken against the park.
The male 2,000-pound rhino, Earth's largest land mammal after the elephant, arrived at the park on Sept. 18, 2022, around noon, the report said. Billed as an "unforgettable" Everglades experience and located south of Orlando, Wild Florida touts its airboat tours, a gator park with more than 200 animals and a drive-thru safari on 170 acres.
Upon the rhino's arrival, park workers told investigators that the animal acting "very wild" and tearing at its enclosure, the report said. The animal eventually calmed down and was left overnight, the report said, and the park was closed the next day to let the rhino adjust.
The following morning, a few workers were on site when the rhino broke through the main enclosure. Workers decided to build up the reinforcements on the animal's smaller quarantine enclosure, the report said. Workers decided to put the rhino back into a contained area, and if the animal broke out of the pen they would shoot it with high-powered rifles they had close by. Video reviewed by investigators showed the rhino running back and forth and testing the cable fencing, he would leave the enclosure and then enter a stand of cypress in the main enclosure. The rhino kept pushing at the cable fencing and getting stuck in the surrounding wires.
When workers saw the rhino break through the main enclosure and run toward cypress trees, park owner Jordan Munn gave the order to shoot, the report said. The rhino was hit several times but managed to escape the trees. Workers followed the dying rhino for ⅓ mile and kept shooting the animal until it fell and died, the report said. Based on shell casings, investigators found 15 rounds were fired.
"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," the park said in a statement.
Out of fear that helicopters would spot the rhino, workers buried the animal in a hole leaving a portion of his head exposed, the report said. Investigators with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission took no further action, according to the September report.
White rhinos are known to be gregarious and calm, Dr. Joseph Okori, WWF Rhino Programme Manager and a wildlife vet said. "White rhinos respond to threats by just running away," he said in an interview on the foundation's website. "They run away, but the problem with them is that they run to a safe distance and stop, they don't run away forever."