Review of Toledo Zoo incident in which elephant attacked keeper finds that keeper broke rules
TOLEDO, Ohio — An Ohio zookeeper critically injured after an elephant charged and pinned him in a corner violated two rules by going into the enclosure alone, according to a review of the attack released Tuesday.
The keeper should have had another person with him and should have carried a steel rod used to handle elephants when he first entered the enclosure, the report said.
The keeper, Don RedFox, has no memory of the incident, which is consistent with trauma victims, and could not answer why he went into the elephant house alone, said Anne Baker, director of the Toledo Zoo.
She said RedFox has been disciplined, but she would not give details. He's expected to return to work when he has recovered.
RedFox, 53, suffered two punctured lungs and several fractured ribs and spent about a month in the hospital before being released two weeks ago.
A security video captured the frightening encounter on July 1.
It shows the zoo's 7-year-old elephant named Louie charging RedFox twice after the animal was startled. The keeper tried to protect himself as the elephant lowered its head, its tusks narrowly missing the man's head and chest.
Zoo officials doubt they will ever know why Louie turned on his keeper. The two had been together nearly every day since the animal's birth.
A group of animal experts who reviewed the video said it appears that RedFox and the elephant surprised each other when the keeper walked around a corner carrying a bag of carrots.
"Louie wasn't supposed to be there," Baker said.
Zoo officials also speculated that Louie was play-fighting because he backed away several times from RedFox and eventually allowed the keeper to leave. Baker said the 4,000-pound elephant could have killed RedFox at any time.
The review committee said RedFox's decision to enter the area alone was out of character. The committee also could not determine why the elephant was in the enclosure.
The zoo no longer allows its keepers to be in the same space with Louie or another one of its female elephants.
Zoo officials said RedFox and his family have been given a copy of the review, but they did not provide a response. A message seeking comment was left at RedFox's home on Tuesday.
Louie has been the face of the zoo since he was born in Toledo in April 2003, becoming just the 38th African elephant born in captivity in the United States. When he was first shown to the public, there were two-hour lines just to get a three-minute glimpse.
-- John Seewer, Associated Press
First photo: Louie in a July 2 photo. Credit: Jetta Fraser / Associated Press
Second photo: A screen shot from October 2009 shows keeper Don RedFox. Credit: The Blade / Associated Press
Video: The incident is shown in a surveillance video obtained by the Associated Press