Dublin Zoo is facing criminal proceedings after a two-year-old girl and her mother were attacked and injured during a supervised “close encounter” with a Brazilian tapir.
The zoo, located in Phoenix Park and one of Ireland's most popular visitor attractions, is accused of ignoring a health risk assessment carried out seven years before the toddler was mauled by the animal, in August 2013.
The little girl, who suffered stomach and arm injuries, had to receive treatment from surgeons at Temple Street Children’s Hospital, while her mother also required medical attention.
The Zoological Society of Ireland is now being prosecuted by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions as a result of the incident which occurred in the Brazilian tapir enclosure on August 8 last year.
Prosecution counsel Antonia Boyle told Judge John O'Neill at Dublin District Court that the zoo is facing a single count contrary to Section 19.4 of the 2005 Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act.
This section of the legislation states: “In relation to the most recent risk assessment carried out by an employer, he or she shall take steps to implement any improvement considered necessary relating to the safety, health and welfare at work of employees and to ensure that any such improvement is implemented in respect of all activities and levels of the place of work.”
During the proceedings today, Ms Boyle asked Judge O'Neill to hear a summary of the allegations before making a trial venue ruling. This is to determine whether the case will be dealt with at district court level or instead be sent to the Circuit Court, which has more severe sentencing powers.
HSA inspector Mairead Wall told Judge O'Neill that on August 8, 2013, a zoo-keeper and members of the public were having “a close encounter in the tapir enclosure in Dublin Zoo.”
She said eight people, four children and four adults, had been in the enclosure when the animal became agitated before it attacked the woman and her daughter.
A risk assessment had been carried out in 2006 stating that members of the public were not to have access to areas in the tapir exhibition, the HSA inspector said.
She agreed with Ms Boyle that the case against the zoo is for it failing to implement the most recent risk assessment. Counsel also told the judge that no charges have been brought in relation to personal injuries sustained.
Judge O'Neill accepted jurisdiction meaning the case will be dealt with in the district court which, on conviction, can impose a maximum €5,000 fine.
Shay Fleming BL, for the Zoological Society of Ireland, asked for a three-week adjournment.
He explained that disclosure of prosecution evidence had just been made available today and Judge O'Neill granted the adjournment.
The Zoological Society of Ireland will be expected to indicate how it will plead when the case resumes in October.