Zoo officials have stated that the near-threatened rhino that crushed a female zookeeper and critically injured her husband will not be put down.
Yeti, the 1.8-tonne southern white rhinoceros female, charged the 33-year-old Salzburg Zoo keeper while she was doing routine work to help the animal repel insects at the rhino enclosure on 12th November.
The keeper died of massive internal injuries before paramedics could reach her and her 34-year-old husband who was seriously injured when he tried to rescue her.
Now zoo managing director Sabine Grebner revealed that since Yeti belongs to a species listed as ‘near-threatened’ by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and it will not be euthanised.
The species, native to the grasslands, savannahs, and shrublands of southern Africa, is one of the two subspecies of the white rhinoceros, the other being the much rarer northern white rhinoceros.
She said that the animal will remain with the other rhinos at the zoo, and added: “We are of course deeply dismayed and shocked. It is our most cooperative rhino.”
The director said she was not aware if any other incidents ever happening and added that all four rhinos at the zoo were used to human contact.
Grebner stated that the zoo is equipped with all kinds of weapons, anesthesia guns, and pepper sprays for emergencies, but added that “no weapon could help” the couple during the sudden attack.
She explained that it was not the first time the zookeepers had applied the insect repellent to the rhinos that apparently enraged the beast.
Zoo authorities will now evaluate how to improve the care for animals and which additional safety measures need to be implemented for staff, the director said.
The zookeepers were on their morning care run at the zoo when they began rubbing insect repellent on the animals in the enclosure at around 6.55am.
But the rhino rammed the keeper, crushing her chest and broke her husband’s leg as he jumped into the enclosure to save her.
He was helicoptered to the Salzburg University Hospital and is undergoing surgery to a broken femur.
Salzburg police said in a statement: “The animal keeper, a German, was killed by a rhinoceros. The woman succumbed to her injuries at the scene of the accident.
“Another zookeeper rushed to his colleague’s aid and tried to scare the rhino away, but was attacked by the animal and seriously injured himself.”
Media revealed that the couple had met at work about three years ago, and got married earlier this year in February.
Biologist and published author Mario Ludwig called the incident strange as rhinos are considered calm and peace-loving animals.
Ludwig said: “Rhinos are herbivores, they have no interest in attacking people.
“If they feel threatened, they can become dangerous. This usually happens when a mother wants to defend her young.
“I’ve seen a car completely flattened by a rhino in Africa.”
The 66-year-old biologist added: “There are two opinions in the public, the zoo supporters and the animal activists who only want to see free animals.
“The truth probably lies somewhere in between. And, in captivity, they often develop a quirk.
“Animals that live in captivity for a long time sometimes develop aggression and behavioral problems.
“There are animals that just run around in circles in the cage or rotate around their own axis.”
When asked about what an individual should do in case of a rhino attack, Ludwig said: “Running away doesn’t help at all. Rhinos can run up to 50 KPH [14 MPH]. That’s faster than Usain Bolt.”
However, pointing out that rhinos are short-sighted, he added: “That’s why my advice is even if it’s difficult, just stay calm and move as little as possible.”
Police are currently checking surveillance footage from cameras at the enclosure.
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Story By: Georgina Jadikovska, Sub-Editor: Michael Leidig, Agency: Newsflash
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