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One zoo employee has been killed and another maimed in incidents at two separate zoos on the same day. At Riverside Discovery Center in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, a chimpanzee bit a worker on the hand, severing two of her fingers and injuring a third. At the Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee, elephant handler Stephanie James died from injuries she sustained when an elephant crushed her against a wall.
These incidents illustrate the very real dangers posed by captive exotic animals—and why laws like those recently passed in Ohio and Oregon that ban exotic “pets” are so desperately needed. Attacks like the one on Ms. James are part of the reason why we’re encouraging all zoos to switch to a protected-contact system of handling—and we’re even offering to cover part of the costs.
In protected contact, which is already being used by more than half the accredited zoos in the country, a safety barrier is kept between elephants and handlers at all times. This eliminates the “need” to establish dominance over elephants through beatings with bullhooks and other forceful control methods. The Knoxville Zoo has temporarily implemented protected contact since the trainer’s death and is re-evaluating its elephant-handling program.
Written by Michelle Sherrow