The incident, which occurred yesterday afternoon, is understood to have left the child unconscious, and with deep stomach and arm injuries caused by the animal’s powerful jaw.
The child’s mother was also wounded after attempting to bring a halt to the extremely rare attack from the usually docile creature, which occurred during a supervised “encounter” visit to the Brazilian tapir enclosure.
The child was last night continuing to receive treatment from surgeons at Temple Street Children’s Hospital, while the two-year-old’s mother was cared for at the Mater.
The Irish Examiner understands the incident took place after zoo keepers agreed to allow the family to view the tapirs from a closer site than most visitors — a step that is usually closely monitored by expert workers.
However, after entering the second site it is understood one of the zoo’s two adult tapirs — a female called Rio, whose weeks-old baby was also in the location — became agitated.
An attack followed, resulting in the child suffering serious injuries after being mauled by the animal.
A Dublin Zoo spokeswoman confirmed there was “an unfortunate accident involving a mother and her child in the Brazilian tapir area” during one of the facility’s “regular supervised animal visits”.
She said zoo managers have launched an investigation into exactly what happened and, as a result of the incident, are “reviewing all procedures with respect to supervised animal visits”.
“Dublin Zoo would like to underline this was very much an isolated incident. We would also like to emphasise that our immediate concern is the health and wellbeing of the visitors involved in this accident,” she said. “The staff of Dublin Zoo are deeply upset by this incident and we reiterate strongly that their upmost concern lies with the visitors and their speedy recovery.”