15 shots fired to kill rare rhino after it escaped fences at Florida park, state says

A tourist attraction billed as “the wild side of Florida” was forced to chase down and kill a newly acquired white rhino, after the animal escaped containment and threatened to breach the park’s perimeter fence, state officials say.

Staff at Wild Florida safari park shot the 2,000-pound male rhino 15 times with high-power rifles to bring it down, according to a report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The park is about 60 miles south of Orlando, along Cypress Lake.

The incident happened Sept. 19, but the park’s public acknowledgment of the rhino’s fate came in a Jan. 30 Facebook post.

“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,” park officials wrote.

“In September 2022, a new rhino began to pose an imminent danger to the park at large, and ... we made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize the animal.”

The safari park section of Wild Florida was closed to the public at the time of the incident, officials say.

Florida Fish and Wildlife learned of the shooting via an anonymous tip received Sept. 19, a report states.

The rhino had been delivered to Wild Florida one day earlier, and immediately began “acting aggressively and attempting to climb over the lock down containment,” FWC officials report.

“The rhino defeated the quarantine area barriers and made his way to the main (rhino) enclosure,” FWC reports. “The next morning, the rhino began acting wild again and ... continued to test the fence until it was able to breach. Once that happened, they made the decision to kill the rhino for fear of it knocking down the perimeter fence and escaping out of the park.”

By then, the rhino had taken refuge in a cypress stand, where it disappeared from view for a few minutes, the report says.

“The rhino was hit several times (by gunshots) but was still able to exit the cypress stand,” the state reports. “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.”

Investigators say documentation reports the rhino “was in healthy condition” and had been trained to deal with crate containment weeks earlier.

No cause for its aggressive behavior was provided. The park did not report any staff members were injured.

Wild Florida announced in 2018 it was creating “a drive-through safari park on 75 acres of land” that would be home to “exotic animals.”

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