A 1,200-pound rhinoceros, battered after a daylong upside-down ride from Florida, injured two workers this week at an amusement park under construction in Prince George's County, escaped briefly and finally died after it was shot witth tranquilizers.
When the female white rhinoceros arrived at the Wild World Amusement Park in Largo on Monday after a 20-hour truck ride from West Palm Beach, it was unconscious and suffering from respiratory ailments and a broken horn, according to Sue Carrington, a park spokesman.
While being unloaded from the crate the animal regained consciousness and attacked two park employes. The two workers, Ray Sears and Sue Nevy, were treated for minor lacerations and bruises at Prince George's General Hospital in Cheverly and released Monday night, hospital officials said.
The rhino's tribulations continued. It awakened during the night, crashed out of its pen and began rambling through the safari section of the 280-acre park, located off Rte. 214 in western Prince George's County.
The rhinoceros was spotted early Tuesday morning by a security guard who summoned park animal handlers. The park officials shot the animal with a tranquilizer dart gun, according to Carrington, and it sank to the ground, dug itself into a hole in the marshy area, and died.
The cause of death is unknown pending the results of an autopsy.
Carrington said the park has established emergency procedures for handling escaped animals and officials on the scene Tuesday morning "thought it was necessary" to tranquilize the animal. It was buried on the park grounds, officials said.
Wild World, a combination animal exhibition and amusement park, is located on the site once occupied by the Wildlife Preserve, a park owned by a subsidiary of the American Broadcasting Company. It is owned by a group of local investors who have remodeled it extensively, and is scheduled to open in late June.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which monitors wild animal parks, is investigating the death of the rhinoceros. Dale Schwindaman, of the department's animal care staff, said yesterday that USDA inspectors have found deficiencies in animal care at the park during the past several months, but that conditions have been corrected and improved. Three or four other animals intended for exhibits have died at the park during the past several months, park officials said.
A full grown white rhinoceros, the largest of the rhinoceros species, can weigh up to four tons. The species is found mainly in East Africa, where it is protected.
Park officials said they could not determine how the rhino's crate was overturned during the long transit from Florida. They said that the animal's West Palm Beach handlers told them the crate was loaded correctly in Florida. A male rhinoceros in another crate on the same truck arrived healthy and unharmed, officials said.
"Somehow it was shipped inverted," said Carrington. "It understandably would have difficulty breathing in that position and contracted the equivalent of pneumonia."