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Keeper stable after rhino incident

A zookeeper is being treated in hospital after he was seriously injured in an incident involving a rhino.

The man, who is in his 50s, suffered chest, abdomen and pelvis injuries at Whipsnade Zoo in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, earlier today.

He was found immersed in water and was taken by ambulance to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge in a serious condition.

David Field, director at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which runs the zoo, told reporters that the keeper was now out of surgery and in a stable condition.

He said: "At approximately 8.15 this morning one of our senior keepers was found injured within the Asian rhino enclosure.

"Procedures were immediately put into place to secure the scene and the e mergency services were called.

"The keeper was treated at the scene by paramedics and was then later taken to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge for further treatment.

"An investigation is under way to find out what happened but at this stage there are no further details.

"I'm pleased to report that he is now out of surgery and doctors have described his condition as stable.

"ZSL staff and more importantly his family are with him at this time and he is being very well cared for."

Dave Tamarro, of the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said the patient had been stabilised at the scene.

A rapid response vehicle, an ambulance officer, an ambulance and an air ambulance all attended.

Mr Tamarro said: "Both trust staff and the Magpas air ambulance crew worked well together to treat the patient, who was then taken to Addenbrooke's Hospital by land ambulance in a serious condition."

A Magpas air ambulance spokeswoman said the man had been given "enhanced pain relief" at the scene.

She said: "He was helped out of the water by staff at the zoo.

"The Magpas team assessed the patient, who suffered serious injuries, and put measures into place to keep him warm as his body temperature had dropped considerably."

A Bedfordshire Police spokesman said: "We were called to Whipsnade Zoo at around 8.25am. Our role was to assist the other emergency services."

The incident took place in the £1 million Rhinos of Nepal exhibit, where five Asian rhinos live.

It features indoor heated pools so that the greater one-horned rhinoceros can wallow in muddy water all year round.

Opened in 2008, it also has a specially-designed watch tower, modelled on those used by conservationists to spot rhinos in the field.

Greater one-horned rhinos, also known as Asian or Indian rhinos, are described as "armour-plated" giants.

They are the world's fifth largest land animal and can be dangerous to humans when startled.

Males weigh around 4,600lb (2,100kg) and females around 3,500lb (1,600 kg).

Listed as a vulnerable species, they are mainly found in India's north-eastern state of Assam and the Terai area of Nepal, where they live in the foothills of the Himalayas.

There are 2,500 one-horned rhinos left in the wild - an increase from as few as 200 at the beginning of the 20th century.

Poachers kill them for their horns to sell for use in traditional medicines and they are also threatened by grassland destruction, encroaching settlements and farmland in their habitat.

A Central Bedfordshire Council spokesman said: "I can confirm that we are investigating the incident which took place at Whipsnade this morning.

"Our officers have been at the scene since this morning and have been working with staff at Whipsnade to ensure that safety procedures are in place and that the zoo remains safe to open to the public and members of staff.

"There are conditions in place under the Health and Safety at Work Act to ensure the safety of staff and visitors to the zoo, and we will be looking into all the details to find out exactly what happened.

"However, while the investigation is ongoing we are unable to comment further."

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