Video Shows Elephant at Ohio Zoo Attacking Trainer
Zoo officials said elephant manager Don Redfox, a 30-year veteran of the zoo, and the 7-year-old elephant named Louie may not have expected to see each other when Redfox entered the elephant stall on the afternoon of July 1, toting a bag of carrots.
"If Don was planning to work with Louie, the treats would have been in his pockets and he would have called to Louie before entering the enclosure," Toledo Zoo Executive Director Dr. Anne Baker said. "Don apparently startled Louie when he entered, and it's possible that Don wasn't expecting to see Louie there, either."
Baker said it was not typical for Louie to be in his stall at the hour when Redfox arrived. Had Redfox been prepared to work with Louie, she added, he would have been carrying an elephant "guide," a stick with a hook fastened to its end.
It is possible, according to reports, that Redfox was entering the enclosure to leave treats for the elephants in their empty enclosure, which is a routine practice at the zoo.
The footage posted online by the Toledo Blade shows Redfox's arrival prompted an aggressive response from Louie, who initially backed away from the trainer before flaring his ears, a sign of aggression, according to the zoo.
"After he is startled, Louie then appears to be engaging in what is called challenging behavior, in which young males will spar with others to establish dominance over other males," Baker said.
Redfox is able to leave the stall after his first run-in with Louie.
"We believe that if Louie's motivation had been to injure Don, he would not have allowed Don to leave," Baker said.
But Louie ultimately does injure Redfox after he re-enters the stall with an elephant guide and touches Louie on his side, as is the practice during training. Louie is seen crouching and lunging at Redfox, forcing him into a corner.
After the elephant backs away, Redfox is seen stumbling and struggling to exit the enclosure.
In an interview with Toledo's WNWO-TV, Baker said she did not know why Redfox re-entered Louie's enclosure after observing his aggressive behavior.
"I can't speculate on that," Baker said. "I don't know what was in his mind, I don't know what the situation was. I don't know what he was reading from Louie."
Redfox was recently removed from intensive care but is still in serious condition, his family told the zoo.
After resisting the release of the video, the zoo said Redfox's family agreed to air it in order to prove Redfox did not mistreat the elephant.
Still, the family told The Associated Press that it continues to believe that "releasing the security tape does nothing more than provide an opportunity to sensationalize a tragic accident."
Zoo officials have yet to meet with Redfox but said they plan to do so as soon as his doctors allow. A review team has been established to assess why the elephant clashed with Redfox, with whom he has spent much of his seven years.
"Based on the video, we have a pretty good understanding of what happened, but we don't yet know why the incident occurred," Baker said. "The review team has begun to meet; we'll be relying on their expertise as well as Don's years of experience as we try to gain a better understanding of the incident."