A rhinoceros attacked a married couple working as zookeepers in Austria on Tuesday, killing the woman and seriously injuring the man trying to save her, officials said.
The attack took place at the Heilbrunn Zoo in the western Austrian city of Hamburg.
Zoo director Sabine Graebner told reporters that the 33-year-old woman, a German national from Bavaria, was tasked that day with applying insect repellent on the rhinos’ bodies because they are very sensitive to insect bites.
Austria’s APA news agency quoted Graebner as saying that JT, a 30-year-old female rhinoceros, attacked the keeper, although it was not clear why.
The woman “died of her injuries at the scene of the accident,” said Hamburg police. Efforts to revive him were not successful.
The other zookeeper, a 34-year-old Austrian national who was feeding other animals at the time, was also attacked and injured when he tried to shoo the rhino away from his wife. The woman suffered serious chest injuries, while her husband suffered a broken leg and was taken to hospital, APA reports.
The names of the two zookeepers were not released in line with Austrian privacy rules.
The man, a trained animal keeper, has been working at the zoo since 2008, and his wife, a certified animal keeper, since 2014. The zoo director said that earlier, she was working in Munich.
The zoo director said that she was “known to be very careful and considerate with the animals, and she had a great understanding when dealing with them”.
Grebner said the exact circumstances of how the attack occurred have not yet been determined.
“Maybe there was some kind of irritation,” he said. “We are extremely upset and shocked.”
All safety rules would be reevaluated, he said, adding that there had been no previous incidents at the rhino enclosure, which was established about 30 years ago.
Grebner said JT weighs 1.8 tons and has been at the zoo since 2009. He said the rhino was cooperative and never made noise. She took on the role of aunt to the young animals and gave birth to a cub herself in 2015.
The APA reported that the Austria Zoo has four rhinos – three females and a bull.
“The animals are very cooperative and have been at the Zurich Zoo for a very long time,” the zoo director said. She said all rhinos respond to handling, are brought from outside into the rhino home when their names are called, and veterinarians can take their blood without anesthesia, APA reported.
The news agency said police were investigating the attack.
The zoo will remain closed till Wednesday.