Inspectors questioned elephant handling at zoo

SPRINGFIELD (AP) — Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield responded to concerns raised by inspectors about the handling of elephants long before a zookeeper was killed by an elephant last week, zoo officials said.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums recommended in March 2001 that zoos use barriers and restraints with elephants that had displayed aggression, although zoos weren’t required to follow the recommendations until Sept. 1, 2014, The Springfield News-Leader reported. The inspectors said in a reaccreditation report that the zoo’s handling of aggressive elephants was a “major concern.”

Earlier this week, a zoo spokeswoman said the issue was dealt with long before John Bradford, 62, was killed last Friday when an elephant suddenly lunged at him, crushing him.

“We did specifically address the concerns that the accreditation inspectors listed,” Melinda Arnold said.

The zoo said Bradford, an employee for 30 years, was helping to move the elephant, named Patience, down a chute into a yard. When Patience hesitated, Bradford leaned into the chute with a guide to coax her forward and she lunged, knocking him into the chute. Then she crushed him, according to a city report.

In March 2011, the AZA recommended that zoo use barriers and restraints with elephants that display aggression toward a keeper and that care providers not share unrestricted space with the animals. Inspectors found in 2012 that the Dickerson Park Zoo at times managed aggressive elephants without barriers or restraints. The report also noted that Patience and another elephant, Moola, had a history of aggression toward handlers.

Inspectors recommended that the zoo consider using barriers or restraints at all times while working with the two elephants.

On Monday, Arnold said shortly after receiving the report, the zoo began tethering elephants when zookeepers went past protected areas. She said the zoo believed Bradford was following policy and that the zoo is in compliance with AZA policy.

“That doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be accidents of some sorts,” she said.

Arnold said the zoo is conducting a full review of safety procedures involving all animals in response to Bradford’s death.

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