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Tuesday, 12 March, 2002, 18:15 GMT
The dangerous job of elephant keeping
Elephants at Whipsnade Wild Animal Park
Elephants have more freedom at Whipsnade
Being an elephant keeper has been described by one wildlife expert as one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

Four keepers have been killed in Europe in the past two years.

Ian Redman told BBC News Online that there are moves in some zoos, particularly in the United States, to abandon hands-on contact and use protected contact instead with such animals.

That involves the use of barriers so that no human is in a position to be attacked.

Port Lympne

Jim Robson's death at London Zoo in October 2001 followed that of Darren Cockrill at Port Lympne Zoo in Kent in February of the same year.

Port Lympne Estates, which runs the zoo near Hythe, was fined 43,500 after admitting breaching health and safety rules.

Mr Cockrill, 27, suffered head injuries when a cow elephant attacked him

He had been with another keeper in the elephant enclosure on 7 February 2000, but was left alone when his colleague went to lunch.

The elephant, La Petite, had previously crushed a keeper's legs in Austria.

Chester

A year earlier in February 2000, Richard Hughes, a senior keeper at Chester Zoo died after being butted by a four-ton Asian elephant.


We have barely begun to understand the social life of the elephant

Ian Redman, wildlife consultant

Mr Hughes, from Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, lost consciousness when Kumara pinned him to the wall with her trunk and attacked him as she was leaving an indoor enclosure at the zoo.

Kumara was later destroyed after suffering severe ill health.

It is thought that her illness may have explained her increased irritability and aggression towards staff and other elephants

In August 2001 a zookeeper in the Czech republic was killed after being attacked by an elephant.

The man - who worked in a zoo at Dvur Kralove in eastern Bohemia - died of throat injuries, which where inflicted when he gave the sick female elephant an injection.

Trainee nurse Andrea Taylor, 20, from Billinge near Wigan, Greater Manchester, died of her injuries after an elephant attacked during a show at a park in Pattaya in Thailand.

In the attack, the elephant grabbed a mahout, or handler, from the back of another beast using his trunk and threw him to the ground.

The enraged animal then turned on the tourists, charging the crowd and swinging its tusks.

Social life

The Born Free Foundation is campaigning against keeping elephants in captivity, especially city zoos.

Elephants at London Zoo
Elephants had been at London Zoo for 170 years
The charity believes the cramped conditions can contribute towards aggressive behaviour in the animals.

Speaking from his latest project in Kampala, Mr Redman, told BBC News Online: "We have barely begun to understand the social life of the elephant, which may interact with hundreds of others in the wild and only one or two others in captivity."

Elephants in the wild are also responsible for many human deaths and injuries every year.

In February this year, a herd trampled three people to death and injured ten more in a forest region of Bangladesh.

Officials said that the deaths took place in two separate attacks when herds of elephants went on a rampage in two villages.

Forest officials are reported to believe that the elephants strayed out of the forests when disturbed by illegal loggers.

'Conflict'

More than 40 people are killed every year by elephants in West Bengal alone.

Four people - including two children - were killed by a wild elephant in December 2001 in the eastern Indian state.

The elephant was apparently drawn to illicit alcohol stored inside the victim's hut.

Mr Redman said that the problem is that "wild elephant herds range over large areas of land and are constantly affected by human activity and it causes conflict."

But he pointed out that more elephants are hurt by people than people by elephants.


Click here to go to BBC London Online
See also:

22 Oct 01 | England
Zoo opens after keeper's death
09 Oct 01 | England
Killer elephant put down
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