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Con­clu­sion of Review of Ele­phant Inci­dent at Taronga Zoo

pub­lished 06 Feb­ru­ary 2013 | mod­i­fied 06 Feb­ru­ary 2013
Fol­low­ing an inci­dent dur­ing an ele­phant train­ing ses­sion at Taronga Zoo last Octo­ber where a Senior Keeper was injured, the Zoo’s Life Sci­ences Divi­sion con­ducted an inves­ti­ga­tion to bet­ter under­stand the cir­cum­stances that led to that event.

The inves­ti­ga­tion included a full review of the inci­dent, as well as reassess­ments of the zoo’s ele­phant hus­bandry pro­ce­dures and poli­cies, behav­ioural assess­ments of the ele­phant calf and the wider herd and a review of facil­i­ties to under­stand if they con­tributed to the event in any way.

Dr Rebecca Spindler, Taronga Zoo, (act­ing) Gen­eral Man­ager Life Sci­ences, Research and Con­ser­va­tion:

We’ve under­taken a com­pre­hen­sive review of what occurred in this inci­dent because it was vitally impor­tant that we under­stood exactly what hap­pened and could iden­tify any­thing in our pro­gram that needed to be changed to ensure the safety and well­be­ing of our keep­ers, as well as the ongo­ing health of our ele­phant herd.

We looked at the inci­dent from a num­ber of per­spec­tives, and the inves­ti­ga­tion con­cluded that the actions of the zoo staff and the ele­phant man­age­ment pro­ce­dures and poli­cies were not at fault. Addi­tion­ally, there was no fail­ure of facil­i­ties that caused the acci­dent”.

How­ever, the daily assess­ments that our keep­ers under­take on all the ele­phants had picked up the emer­gence of some par­tic­u­larly bois­ter­ous behav­iour in two year old male calf Pathi Harn in the days prior to the acci­dent. He was par­tic­u­larly react­ing to a female ele­phant that was in sea­son.”

At that time, Taronga’s male calves Luk Chai, 3 ½ and Pathi Harn had already been in train­ing to tran­si­tion to a more hands-​off man­age­ment style for the pre­vi­ous five months, which is a nor­mal step in man­ag­ing matur­ing males.”

It was actu­ally dur­ing one of these train­ing ses­sions with his keeper, Lucy Melo that Pathi Harn lifted his trunk and pinned her to a pole. Two other keep­ers adja­cent to Lucy were able to guide the calf away and call for med­ical assis­tance.

We take any mat­ters such as this very seri­ously, and our inves­ti­ga­tion has deter­mined that Pathi Harn was expe­ri­enc­ing hor­monal surges at a much younger age than most males, and this may have trig­gered unpre­dictable changes in his behav­iour.

We imme­di­ately put in place strict pro­tec­tive mea­sures for any inter­ac­tions with Pathi Harn and these remain. Addi­tion­ally, we’ve deter­mined to accel­er­ate the tran­si­tion of our male calves into the more hands-​off man­age­ment style, called Restricted Con­tact, and this is cur­rently under­way.

These young calves are just start­ing the process of matur­ing into bull ele­phants, and a bull will nat­u­rally seek to take more con­trol of his envi­ron­ment, so from here on our calves will be man­aged with a pro­tec­tive bar­rier between them and their keep­ers, or com­pa­ra­ble secu­rity mea­sures.

We’re very proud of the ele­phant pro­gram at Taronga Zoo and it has seen some extra­or­di­nary suc­cesses to date. How­ever, this was an acci­dent with very seri­ous con­se­quences, and we’ve acted to ensure that our ongo­ing prac­tices, behav­iour assess­ments and facil­i­ties con­tinue to sup­port the pro­gram and ensure the well­be­ing of keep­ers and ele­phants alike,” said Dr. Spindler.

(Source: Taronga Zoo media release, 15.01.2013)
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