20th February 2005 Vienna
Tragic Accident at the Elephant House
On Sunday, 20th February 2005, at 10.40 a.m., the supervisor of the
elephant house at Vienna Zoo, 39-year-old Gerd Kohl was attacked and
mortally wounded by Abu, a young elephant bull. Gerd Kohl had the reputation
of being one of Europe's most experienced elephant keepers which is
why he had been the one to take care of the barely 4-year-old elephant.
In fact, he had been training and looking after Abu since his birth
at Vienna Zoo on 25th April 2001.
The accident took place during the elephants' daily morning shower.
Abu, who weighs 1.6 tons, unexpectedly turned on Gerd Kohl and pinned
him to the wall, spearing him with his tusks and injuring him so badly
that all help came too late. The bull is currently undergoing a phase
of aggressive and unpredictable behaviour common in adolescent elephant
males. This is the time when bull elephants are weaned from their mothers
and prepared by their personal trainer for "protected contact",
i.e. the manner in which they will be looked after by the keepers in
future. "Protected contact" means that the keepers have no
direct contact with the elephant. For safety reasons, care, training
as well as all other contact always take place from a distance.
Press release 20 February 2003
Elephant keeper killed
Wednesday morning the 19th of February 2003 one of the elephant keepers
at Safari Beekse Bergen, Hilvarenbeek, the Netherlands was injured
badly by an elephant during his daily work. He was immediately taken
to the nearby hospital where he died late that evening. Keepers, staff,
management and director have sent their deepest condolences to the family.
During the daily training routine, where four keepers work with the
five female African elephants of the park, one of them gave the keeper
a blow with the head. As the keeper thereafter stumbled and fell, the
elephant attacked him with head and feet. Two other keepers were able
to removed their injured colleague from the stable whilst the third
phoned for the ambulance. Within 20 minutes the injured keeper was in
During Wednesdays' training nothing abnormal was noticed which could
be responsible for the sudden deviated behaviour of the elephant. Parks
management has installed an inquiry after the cause of the incident
and the labour inspection authorities have been informed. For keepers
and others staff members trauma therapists are available. The elephants
will remain in the indoor enclosures for the time being and public will
have no access there.
Pittsburgh Tribune Review
Cause may never be known
Tuesday, November 19, 2002
It might never be known what caused a normally docile female elephant
to kill an experienced handler. The 20-year-old elephant knocked down
and pinned handler Michael Gatti to the ground with its head. The U.S.
Department of Agriculture, which licenses zoos, will investigate, spokesman
Jim Rogers said. Females, who lead elephant herds, generally are more
easygoing and eager to please than males, experts say. Professional
elephant handlers at zoos a cross the country expressed shock and sorrow
over Gatti's death. "It's a close-knit community and a close-knit
group," said Don Winstel, assistant director of the Columbus Zoo
in Ohio and a former elephant handler. Elephants put Winstel in the
hospital twice during his career. Mike Keele, assistant director of
the Oregon Zoo and a former elephant handler, was attacked by a female
elephant 23 years ago. Jane Ballantine, spokeswoman for the American
Zoo & Aquarium Association, describes elephant handler as "an
extremely dangerous job." "You're working with wild animals.
They're unpredictable. The people who are with them all the time can
read their behavior. But anything can happen that sends them in a direction
that you might not want to see." Handlers use two methods to command
elephants: free contact and protected contact, Ballantine said. The
Pittsburgh Zoo uses free contact, in which the handlers have direct
physical contact with the elephants. Protected contact means a barrier
exists between the keeper and the elephant.