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Zoo is spared conviction after tapir mauls girl (2)


Tapir and its mum

Tapir and its mum

One of the tapirs at Dublin Zoo

One of the tapirs at Dublin Zoo


Tapir and its mum

DUBLIN Zoo has paid €5,000 to charities and has been spared a criminal conviction for a terrifying incident in which a two-year-old girl was mauled by a Brazilian tapir.

Judge John O'Neill was given confirmation yesterday at Dublin District Court that the zoo had complied with his order in October to donate €2,500 to the Jack and Jill Foundation and the same amount to Laura Lynn Children's Hospice.

Finalising the case, he applied the Probation Offenders Act, which spares the zoo a fine.

The toddler was set on by a 225kg exotic and normally plant-eating animal, named Rio, during a supervised "close encounter" experience in the tapir enclosure on August 8 last year.

Photos of the girl's horrific injuries were published the Irish Medical Journal in November.

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

In October, 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.

The assessment had stated that the public should only be allowed to get close to harmless animals like stick-insects.


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

Judge O'Neill heard 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 had pleaded guilty 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 had described the chances of the incident occurring as "one in a million".

HSA inspector Mairead Wall had agreed that during the five-minute visit the 108cm high pig-like animal had been lying on its side with its eyes rolled back in contentment as it was petted.

But, she added, "The child let out a screech and at that the animal was on its feet, proceeded towards the child, picked the child up in its mouth and shook it violently".

Ms Wall was satisfied the zoo-keeper was highly qualified and experienced.

However, the zoo-keeper had not seen the risk assessment.

The director of the zoo, Leo Oosterweghel, had been unaware that close encounter visits had been happening about once a month for the past number of years,