Zoo faces federal fine after keeper ‘bumped’ by horn of 4,000-pound rhinoceros

Archie, a 50-year-old Southern white rhinoceros, in the Facebook post announcing the zookeeper’s injury.
Archie, a 50-year-old Southern white rhinoceros, in the Facebook post announcing the zookeeper’s injury. Facebook

A rhinoceros hurting a zookeeper could cost The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens $14,661 in workplace safety fines after OSHA added investigation to injury.

The Department of Labor announced the proposed fine on Tuesday.

Labor said the rhino “seriously injured” the keeper. A Wednesday email from the zoo said she suffered “minor injuries to (her) shoulder, arm and stomach” and was back at work within a week of the Feb. 26 incident.

That day, the zoo said on Facebook “during a routine training, male Southern white rhino, Archie, made contact with a keeper. The keeper was then transported by ambulance to an area hospital for assessment.”

Though that post appeared three hours after the incident, the zoo got cited for not notifying the Occupational Safety and Health Administration within 24 hours of the keeper’s hospitalization as well as “failing to protect workers from recognized hazards when employees train and feed the rhinos.”

Zoo Executive Director Tony Vecchio emailed a statement to the Miami Herald that said the zoo is appealing the OSHA citations: “The citations from OSHA weren’t unexpected. OSHA’s job is to investigate accidents, and the issuance of a citation and the accompanying fine is typically the final outcome of their inspections.

“We accept responsibility and recognize the need for continual and extensive safety training, although there are policies already in effect. Accidents happen and animals are unpredictable, so safety training has always, and will continue to be, an ongoing process here at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.”

Back in February, Vecchio told the Florida Times-Union, “I think he bumped her with his horn, and it’s also got a couple of tons of animal behind it.”

In response to a few Facebook pleas of “please don’t put down Archie,” the zoo answered, “Archie is out on exhibit and doing fine. We would never ever “put down” an animal for something that happened because of an accident. He is a loved and valued member of our Zoo family.”

The zoo got cited for not limiting Archie’s movement in the rhino training chute with keepers nearby.

In the Citation and Notification of Penalty, OSHA suggested “a feeding tool to feed/reward the rhinos from distance;” use of “butt bars,” crossed bars in the chute that limit rhino movement; create a policy that will “ensure that rhino keepers body parts are not present in the same unrestricted space as rhinos, except in rare circumstances...”

Since 1989, David J. Neal’s domain at the Miami Herald has expanded to include writing about Panthers (NHL and FIU), Dolphins, old school animation, food safety, fraud, naughty lawyers, bad doctors and all manner of breaking news. He drinks coladas whole. He does not work Indianapolis 500 Race Day.