In a review of the book “The Book of Deadly Animals” by Gordon Grice, Peter Marren wrote in The Independent: “Elephants have a habit of stomping, kicking or absent-mindedly treading on you. The training of elephants for the circus, or as workhorses, "involves impressing them, through physical punishment, that the human trainer outranks them socially". But if "an elephant sees his chance to move up in the hierarchy, he can give his trainer an alternate impression". [Source: Peter Marren, The Independent December 9 2011

Elephants have been known to kill people for teasing them. A trained elephant in Thailand trampled to death a man who had repeatedly offered it a banana and pulling it away at the last minute

Lonely and love struck elephants have also become killers. An elephant belonging to a local circus in Thailand was shot by police after became so upset by he absence of his regular handler (who had left to visit relatives) that it trampled two temporary handlers to death. A male elephant at an animal park in Liege, Belgium mistook his trainer for a romantic rival and trampled him to death.

Three killer elephants are kept at the Thai Elephant Conversation Center in Lampang. One killed 16 people. In 1916, a circus elephant named Mary ran amok and killed a man in Erwin, Tennessee. Townspeople there demanded justice and called for the public hanging of the animal. Before a crowd of 5,000, a mob spent two hours trying to hoist up the elephant only to have the steel cable snap. A second attempt was successful and elephant was hanged.

Elephant in a Thailand Tourist Show Kills Tourist

In April 2000, a 20-year-old British nurse trainee, Andrea Taylor, was killed and her sisters and father were badly injured when a bull elephant ran amok at a show at the Nong Nooch elephant village in Pattaya, Thailand and charged into the audience. The elephant went berserk and threw its train to the ground and trampled and attacked Taylor and her family with its tusks. It was not known why the elephant attacked. It was not in musth. [Source: Reuters, April 25, 2000]

The father, Geoffrey Taylor told the Independent he had seen several performances at the same place before. “There had never been any bother before but this time the elephant just lunged at us. We were sitting in the front row and it started digging its tusks into Andrea’s stomach We tried to help her but it just knocked us out of the way and was really goring into her. There was blood everywhere, it was terrifying. There was total panic.”

Alex Spillius and Nigel Bunyan wrote in The Telegraph, “Taylor, 20, who was sitting with her family in the front row at the show, was gored repeatedly in the stomach by the bull elephant's tusks and was tossed into the air after being impaled on one of the animal's tusks. Miss Taylor's sister, Helen, 23, suffered serious abdominal injuries and their father, Geoffrey, had surgery for leg wounds. Mr Taylor, 51, learned of his daughter's death after his operation at the Bangkok-Pattaya Hospital. His surviving daughter, who is in intensive care, has yet to be told for fear that it slows her recovery. Taylor said: "I did not see the moment the animal attacked as I had turned away. All I recall is being flung to the side. After it was over I saw Andrea and knew she was seriously injured." [Source: Alex Spillius and Nigel Bunyan, The Telegraph, April 26, 2001]

From his hospital bed Mr. Taylor told The Telegraph, "The elephants had done their usual tricks. It was about 4pm and we were sitting in the front row. It suddenly lunged at the three of us. You know the size of them. "It was just digging its tusks into us - into my younger daughter's intestines. We tried to help her but it just knocked us out of the way and just kept really goring into her. There was total panic and blood everywhere. It was terrifying. I knew I'd been hurt but I didn't know to what extent until I saw a gaping wound in my leg." The family were rushed to the nearby Bangkok-Pattaya Hospital by car. Mr Taylor, a regular visitor to Thailand, said: "The girls were screaming and the driver was going through red lights and everything." Dr Pichit Kangwolkij, director of the hospital, said Miss Taylor's injuries put her into shock. "Surgery was performed right away for about three hours. She was given 13 units of blood but we were unable to save her."

Nigel Bunyan wrote in The Telegraph, “The owners of the showground yesterday erected an iron fence around its perimeter. They accepted responsibility for the Taylors' medical costs but had "no idea" why the elephant attacked. A spokesman said: "I think it was confused." The rogue elephant's trainer, or mahout, was later charged with negligence and causing death and injuries. Paveena Hongsakul, Thailand minister of tourism, has ordered security to be tightened at 700 similar venues. North Merseyside coroner, Christopher Sumner, ruled that Miss Taylor's death on April 24 last year was accidental. He told her relatives: "Unfortunately, I cannot be sure there was gross negligence, so I must record a verdict of accidental death." [Source: Nigel Bunyan, The Telegraph, April 26, 2001]

Theories About Why the Pattaya Elephant Attack Occurred

Alex Spillius and Nigel Bunyan wrote in The Telegraph, “Witnesses to the attack at Nong Nooch, near the resort of Pattaya, claimed the dead woman had been teasing the elephant with a banana moments before it lunged over a ledge towards her. Other reports suggested that the elephant, which was later recaptured, had initially attacked another animal's mahout before clambering towards the audience. [Source: Alex Spillius and Nigel Bunyan, The Telegraph, April 26, 2001]

Part of the tragedy was captured on an amateur video and later broadcast on Thai television. This showed mahouts, or handlers, standing on the tusks of several elephants as part of a trick. The camera then cut abruptly to the bull elephant stretching over the ledge towards the audience. It was digging at the ground with its tusks. A woman's body could be seen on the ground, with other tourists scrambling away from the elephant in panic.

Sethaphan Buddhani, a Pattaya-based director of the Tourist Authority of Thailand, said the elephant's mahout had claimed that Miss Taylor tried to feed the elephant a banana and then teased it by twice pulling back her hand. He said: "The manager said the elephant tried to grab the banana and hit her. Everybody tried to run away and the elephant thought he was in danger." Such a serious attack was unprecedented in the 30 years that the elephant village had been operating, said Mr Buddhani. The bull elephant involved had grown up there with its mahout.

“Mr Taylor, said he believed the rogue elephant, Phlai Ngoen, had been teased by Chinese tourists seated behind his party. But his theory was dismissed by Nick Ellerton, a warden at Knowsley Safari Park, Merseyside, who said: "We cannot be sure what caused this animal to attack. "The elephant put its head down and persistently attacked. It was not going after food. Elephants can and do target individuals, but it is unlikely they would attack anyone offering bananas as they must have seen this happen thousands of times before." Mr Ellerton added: "All elephants are unpredictable, bull elephants especially. There have been 25 keeper deaths in the last 10 years in Western zoos, and allowing mature bull elephants into contact with people in an enclosed space is an accident waiting to happen."

Helen Taylor, an engineering manager, said: "I saw the two elephants getting nearer and thought they would stop. But I suddenly noticed a change in one elephant's eye and it came towards us and started to attack."

Elephant Kills Zookeeper by Stamping on His Head

In March 2002, Nigel Rosser of AP wrote: “A four-tonne Burmese elephant held down her keeper at London Zoo and deliberately crushed his skull with her foot, an inquest heard today. In front of dozens of shocked visitors, the 20-year-old female elephant pushed over keeper James Robson, then wrapped her trunk around his legs to hold him down before stamping on his head. As Mr Robson screamed for help, two other elephants tried to save him from Mya, Westminster Coroner's court was told. But 45-year-old Mr Robson - a zookeeper for 26 years who virtually lived with the animals - was pronounced dead two hours later with massive head injuries. [Source: Nigel Rosser, AP, March 12, 2002]

Experts later said Mya may have picked on him because she had recognised his "introverted nature" and turned savage. Unmarried Mr Robson, of Hampstead, had been playing with Mya and two other female Indian elephants, Geetha and Azizah, on in their Regent's Park enclosure on 20 October 2001. American Jerry Finley told the court Mr Robson was conducting a show involving the elephants moving enormous logs round their paddock at the time of the attack. He said: "I picked up my son so he could watch what was going on. But then the elephant wrapped his trunk against the guy's legs and pushed him to the ground. The keeper started screaming for help. "I made my son turn round so that he could not see what was happening. The elephant held the keeper down on the ground and then he stamped on his head ... I believe it was an attempt to kill the man. Its actions were continuous, it never stopped attacking once it started." Mr Finley added: "The other elephants tried positioning themselves between the attacking elephant and the man."

During the inquest executives at London Zoo - which nearly went bankrupt in 1990 - denied cost-cutting measures had led to Mr Robson's death. Head keeper Brian Harman said: "It is preferable to have two handlers, but Jim and I had been around the elephants for such a long time that we got by on our own. "The problem was getting trained elephant handlers. I didn't ever think that one of those elephants would turn round and kill one of us." Mr Harman said he had handpicked Mya 13 years ago from a herd in Burma and had always regarded her as the least aggressive of the three.

Coroner Dr Paul Knapman said: "It has been said that cost-cutting may have played a part in a shortage of handlers and lack of safety at the zoo." Zoo manager Bill James replied: "I would say that was very incorrect. There was never any suggestion that we would not try to recruit trained keepers. We tried very hard and we did recruit some, but they did not stay long because of the financial pressures caused by living in London." The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Panic-Attack-Suffering Elephant Kills Caretaker

In April 2012, the Sydney Morning Herald reported: “A zoo owner was crushed to death in an elephant’s trunk after the animal she had spent two years nursing back to health picked her up and lifted her into the air, New Zealand animal welfare authorities say. Helen Schofield, the owner and director of Franklin Zoo, 56 kilometres south of Auckland, was caring for 3.1-tonne Mila, formerly a circus elephant known as Jumbo, when tragedy struck. Emergency services were called to the zoo about 4.30pm yesterday after receiving reports that Ms Schofield had been killed when Mila picked her up and crushed her. [Source: Sydney Morning Herald, April 26, 2012]

Auckland SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge said he did not believe Mila had attacked Ms Schofield, who was also a vet. Just two-and-a-half hours before her death, Ms Schofield revealed details of the elephant's troubled emotional statewhile standing in front of Mila's enclosure. The elephant was known to suffer frequent panic attacks at night and Ms Schofield, who lived on site, would comfort the animal by speaking with it through a safety wall.

Ms Schofield had been working with the elephant to get it into a healthy physical and psychological state so it could be sent to live in a sanctuary with other elephants, Mr Kerridge said. She was a “passionate vet” and had “total control” of the animal.In May 2010 Ms Schofield, who was described by zoo colleagues as “very well-loved”, wrote of her enthusiasm for working with the elephant. "It is a tremendous privilege to take care of Jumbo (Mila), I feel personally humbled and flattered by the big ear flapping purrs she gives me as a greeting when I return to see her from other activities in the sanctuary. "She is so affectionate and responsive. It will be a joyful day to see her develop friends of the elephant kind in the future. This is a short way off now."

Mila arrived at Franklin Zoo two years ago after she was handed over to the SPCA. Ms Schofield had nursed her back to health and Kerridge said she had "done a good job". The elephant, which came to the zoo in 2009 from the Weber Bros Circus, had taken time to integrate into the zoo environment. Mila had spent 28 years with the circus before being retired to a purpose-built enclosure at the zoo.

Ms Schofield said Mila would "trumpet" when the nearby quarry would do blasting, but had recently done in front of a group of five-year-old children. Hours before the incident, the elephant appeared friendly and was rubbing its eyes with its trunk, and spraying dust at its trainer. It did not appear agitated. "We look out and see the elephant every day," a neighbour said. "I don't think it's very friendly. It hasn't had a very happy life."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2012

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