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IDA Urges Strict Policy Changes Following Elephant Keeper Death

October 14th, 2013 by Nicole Meyer

In Defense of Animals Urges Strict Policy Changes Following Elephant Keeper Death At Dickerson Park Zoo

Springfield, MO. (Oct. 14, 2013) – In Defense of Animals (IDA), an international animal protection organization, is calling on the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to enact and enforce stricter policies in elephant management following the tragic death of keeper John Phillip Bradford at the Dickerson Park Zoo on October 12th.

“IDA extends our condolences to Mr. Bradford’s family and the Dickerson Park Zoo,” said Nicole Meyer, Director of IDA’s Elephant Protection Campaign. “This incident is a strong indication that AZA standards for elephant management are not as rigorous and effective as they must be in order to protect zoo staff and elephants.” Working with elephants in captivity is an occupational hazard. Since 1990, 32 keepers have been injured or killed by elephants in the United States in zoos, the vast majority of which are accredited by the AZA.

A statement released by the Dickerson Park Zoo notes that staff followed zoo policies and AZA guidelines when moving the elephant Patience from barn stalls into a chute. While it is not clear exactly what transpired, it is clear that current guidelines allow for tragic and unnecessary incidents like this to happen.

In 2011, the AZA announced that all accredited zoos must, by September, 2014, implement a policy of managing elephants in a system called “protected contact” whereby keepers and elephants are separated by a protective barrier and only positive reinforcement training is used. The AZA announcement included a directive that elephants who display aggression must be moved into this safer management system “as soon as possible.” Further, in its accreditation report for the Dickerson Park Zoo in 2012, the AZA reportedly issued a strong recommendation to the zoo that Patience and another elephant with a history of aggression be handled with “barriers and/or restraints in place at all times” to ensure the safety of zoo staff. However, it does not appear that this was made a condition of reaccreditation, or that the AZA made efforts to enforce this policy.

Patience has long been noted to be aggressive to zoo staff, as well as to other elephants, likely the result of the trauma she faced living in the unnatural and deprived conditions in captivity. As noted in zoo records, some incidents of aggression resulted in Patience being “worked over” by staff or chained in place until she cooperated.

“Mr. Bradford’s death was a tragedy that could and should have been prevented,” said Meyer. “IDA sees this as a failure by the Dickerson Park Zoo and the AZA to enact stricter polices that should be enforced at all times—not just sometimes—to eliminate instances of shared space between zoo keepers and elephants.”

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