Dublin Zoo pleads guilty to safety breach in tapir attack on child

Girl was picked up by animal and suffered arm and stomach injuries, court hears

Dublin Zoo has pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety regulations after a two-year-old girl was mauled by a “chilled out” Brazilian tapir which suddenly went on the attack.

The toddler was set on by the 225kg exotic animal named Rio during a supervised “close encounter” experience in the tapir enclosure on August 8th last year.

The Zoological Society of Ireland, which was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), admitted a breakdown in communication was to blame for a 2006 risk assessment not being heeded. It had stated that the public should only be allowed to get close to harmless animals like stick-insects.

The girl, who was picked up by the tapir’s mouth, suffered stomach and arm injuries and had to receive treatment at Temple Street Children’s Hospital. Her mother also required medical attention.


Dublin District Court heard today that the normally mild-mannered female tapir called Rio had been placid but reacted aggressively when the child “let out a screech.”

Judge John O’Neill heard that there had never been any incident like this in the zoo’s 180-year history and it was humiliated, apologetic and embarrassed, and has implemented new safety measures.

It pleaded guilty today to a single count contrary to Section 19.4 of the 2005 Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act for failing to implement a risk assessment.

Defence counsel Shay Fleming described the chances of the incident occurring as “one in a million”.

Judge O’Neill ruled that if it donated €2,500 to the Jack and Jill Foundation and the same amount to Laura Lynn Children’s Hospice he would apply the Probation Offenders Act, sparing the zoo a fine and criminal record. The case was adjourned for eight weeks.

HSA inspector Mairead Wall told prosecution counsel Antonia Boyle that zoo-keeper Susan O'Brien had done a favour for a friend by letting a family with four young children have a close encounter with an animal.

The director of the zoo, Leo Oosterweghel, had been unaware that close encounter visits had been happening , Ms Wall said. Ms Wall agreed with Mr Fleming that the visits no longer happen.

In a statement issued after the case Dublin Zoo said it had introduced additional updated safety protocols and proecedures. Among these are changes to the tapir habitat to make it a protected contact habitat for staff and the installation of a secondary perimeter fence.