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The BBC's Liz Mackean reports
"Staff are shocked and upset"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 8 February, 2000, 17:11 GMT
Killer elephant spared

Indian elephant An Indian elephant was involved in the accident


The directors of the wildlife park in Kent where an elephant crushed a keeper to death have said the animal will not be put down.

Darren Cochrill, 27, was found with multiple injuries in the elephant enclosure of the Port Lympne Wild Animal Park, near Hythe, Kent on Monday.

At an enquiry on Tuesday, it also emerged that five elephants were found huddling around the keeper's body, as if to protect him.

'No aggression'

Mr Cochrill was pronounced dead on arrival at William Harvey hospital in Ashford.

Zoo chiefs - who are still trying to establish how Mr Cochrill died - have warned other keepers not to go near the female Indian elephant, La Petite.


Darren Cockrill Colleagues have paid tribute to Darren Cockrill
Tony Lockyer said La Petite, a two-and-three-quarter tonne female who arrived at Port Lympne from an Austrian safari park last October, would not be put down.

"We just do not know what happened. We immediately said this animal is a killer, it will be treated as a bull. No one will now go near her," Mr Lockyer said.

"I see no reason why she should be put down. La Petite has shown no aggression whatsoever since she has been here."

Mr Cockrill is the fifth keeper to be killed in 20 years at one of the zoos owned by millionaire John Aspinall.

His policy of allowing keepers to bond with the animals has attracted many visitors but has also proved controversial.

Zoo officials said the policy would remain, despite the latest incident.

Safety review

Staff at the zoo are considering a number of theories as to why the elephant attacked her keeper.

"La Petite could have been redirecting aggression if something was going on either side of it. Elephants do this. It is possible she is pregnant," Mr Lockyer said.

"She has only been here since October and perhaps the keeper was thinking of it more in terms of an elephant he knew.

He said the wildlife park would review its safety procedures with the Health and Safety Executive and the park's zoo keepers.

A team of health and safety officers from Shepway District Council are still investigating the incident.

Mr Cockrill, who lived in zoo accommodation at Port Lympne, was found by colleagues at around midday.

It is believed he was feeding the elephant in her stall and had been crushed about 30 minutes previously.

All of the elephants at the zoo have individual stalls, separated from others by steel rods.

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See also:
07 Feb 00 |  UK
Elephant crushes keeper

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