A longtime zookeeper at a municipal zoo in Springfield, Mo., was killed Friday after an elephant attacked him, officials said.
John Bradford, 62, was working among Dickerson Park Zoo's four elephants when Patience, a 41-year-old female, charged at him.
According to Cora Scott, spokeswoman for the city of Springfield, which runs the zoo, Bradford was accompanied by multiple employees. No others were injured.
Bradford had worked for 30 years at the zoo, and news of his death stunned colleagues.
"This is a very sad day for the zoo family, as well as our community as a whole," zoo director Mike Crocker said.
Back in 2010, Bradford told KOLR10 News that there was an "inherent risk" in working at a zoo. He said zookeepers tried to minimize that risk when working with the animals and "assess the situation and determine if it's an acceptable risk or not."
Since 1984, 13 people have been injured in incidents involving elephants at zoos and other facilities nationwide, 10 of them fatally, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's online database. None of the incidents involved Dickerson Park Zoo.
News of the zookeeper's death coincides with emerging research on the bonds between elephants and humans. Research published Thursday shows that African elephants can detect subtle human cues, suggesting a heightened sense of communication.
Still, humans' relationship with elephants is fraught with peril. More than 500 people worldwide die each year from elephant attacks, according to a Time report in 2007.
Officials reiterated Friday that the zoo has been fully accredited by the Assn. of Zoos and Aquariums since 1986. The most recent accreditation report noted that the elephant areas "far exceed the recommended stall and habitat space."
Zoo officials said in a statement that the elephant would not be punished for the incident.
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