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Death of Elephant Handler Was Avoidable

Written by PETA | March 15, 2011

PETA has asked officials with Tennessee’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health to penalize the Knoxville Zoo for repeatedly allowing handlers to come into direct contact with the elephants there. Handler Stephanie James was crushed to death when an elephant named Edie pushed her into a bar in her enclosure in January.

sdixclifford/cc by 2.0

Despite a previous elephant attack at the zoo that resulted in injuries to at least two other handlers, the zoo refused to switch to the “protected contact” system of handling elephants—a much safer and more humane way of interacting with captive elephants. Protected contact, which is already being used by the majority of the accredited zoos in the country, involves the use of a barrier between elephants and handlers at all times. No bullhooks are used to punish and control elephants.  

Zoos that have switched to protected contact report that the elephants’ freedom to make choices about their lives has had a dramatic impact on the elephants’ emotional well-being and reduces their aggression. The elephants are far more relaxed and content, and the system is far safer for zoo employees as well. The risk of human injury or death is nearly eliminated since there is little actual human-elephant contact.

After James’ death, the Knoxville Zoo temporarily implemented protected contact. Let’s hope that our call for action will prompt the zoo to make that change permanent.

Written by Jennifer O’Connor

Commenting is closed.
  • Tharindu Muthukumarana says:

    Elephants in zoos doesn’t get there natural way of the life. As result they would aggressive. So these elephants should be released to wild.

  • erna says:

    I hate that animals get punished for their “handlers” mistakes! What is wrong with the human race?

  • pddykt says:

    Wouldn’t it be much better if the zoo moved out into the country? Better for the animals, and even better for the visitors.

  • FuegoKat says:

    I’m sorry a human lost their life, BUT – every time one does due to mishandling of an animal, a little, wild part of me cheers.

  • ocean17 says:

    where to begin… elephants are extremely intelligent and social animals, in their natural environs they forge friendships that last a lifetime and mourn the loss of other elephant companions, this is highly documented. and according to wikipedia: “Elephants are amongst the world’s most intelligent species…Elephants exhibit a wide variety of behaviors, including those associated with grief, learning, allomothering, mimicry, art, play, a sense of humor, altruism, use of tools, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness, memory and possibly language.” and yes this is not where they belong, in a cold barren sterile cement cage and prison, no they belong in their natural habitat.

  • lilshoes says:

    I agree with the fact that these animals do not belong there in the first place. It is sad that a life has been lost over this.

  • Cherylin721 says:

    Please continue to implement protected contact with your elephants.

  • Deborah s Stewart says:

    To begin with,this is not where these animals belong.While it is a terrible tragedy someone had to lose their life,we as humans, and supposedly the smarter species should know there should be a protected protected program in place.

  • Hannah Dickinson says:

    Stupid…? When “the majority of the accredited zoos in the country” already use it… Wake up, Knoxville… And people are going to blame the elephant, of course. I’m sorry, but I get REALLY tired of humans

  • maria says:

    Please, take care for this elephant, leave it at a save place, wich is not a zoo

  • Lizz <3 Elephants says:

    This just goes to show that such a magnificent, intelligent creature is NOT to be contained or imprisoned. FREE ALL ELEPHANTS EVERYWHERE!