Dublin Zoo is investigating how a child got inside its rhino enclosure at the weekend in an incident that was photographed by other visitors.
Images appeared online on Saturday showing the child inside the chest-high fence of the rhino enclosure close to an adult taking a photograph.
A spokesperson for Dublin Zoo said “the incident is currently being reviewed by Dublin Zoo”.
Gillian Bird, from the Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA), said rhinos were docile animals. They did not have great sight but the risk with them was that they might charge and any potential danger could come from the animal being provoked or even curious, she said.
“From an animal welfare point of view, if the zoo keepers had to intervene, they’d probably have to take drastic action. They can sedate the animal with a dart gun but there’s always a chance that could end badly.”
Ms Bird added that if the zookeepers felt they needed to intervene they would “probably just shoot the animal dead... Anybody who would do that is not thinking of child welfare or the animal’s welfare”.
Ms Bird said the enclosures were suitable for all to enjoy and asked when watching the animals for people to have respect.
Recent incidents which ended badly include the killing of gorilla Harambe in the Cincinnati Zoo last May.
In that incident, the zoo shot and killed the gorilla after a child fell down into its enclosure. The gorilla was seen to be dragging the child around. According to the zoo, tranquillising the gorilla could have left the boy in further danger.