Probe finds Springfield zookeeper followed rules before death

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 | 4:16 p.m. CST

SPRINGFIELD — A man who was crushed to death by an elephant at a Springfield zoo was following established guidelines at the time of his death, according to a new investigative report.

Investigators for the city of Springfield also concluded that officials at the Dickerson Park Zoo reacted appropriately after the death of John Bradford last year, The Springfield News-Leader reported.

Bradford, 62, was trying to get a female elephant named Patience to move into a restraint device on Oct. 11 when the elephant lunged, knocking Bradford's head into a closed metal gate behind him. The animal crushed him with her head after his torso fell inside the cage. Emergency responders believe he was killed instantly when his head hit the gate, according to the report. The attack lasted about five seconds.

Bradford, a zoo employee for 30 years, was reaching into a chute with a 5-foot livestock guide to try and move the elephant forward when the accident occurred. His position at the time was "consistent with the concept of protected contact," according to the report. Under protected contact, there is nearly always a barrier between an elephant and any people.

The zoo has made some changes since Bradford's death, including requiring zoo staff to approach only within trunk's reach from the other side of the chute when an elephant is inside. One keeper will also hold a small electric prod in case an elephant reaches through and grabs someone with its trunk. A senior keeper is spending "considerable time" on safety procedures and will attend a class on the subject in February, according to the report.

"The risks that zookeepers sometimes face are similar in some respects to those that policemen or firefighters might face in that despite having the best training and equipment, in some incidents there are factors which are out of one's control that can result in serious injuries and even fatalities," the report concludes. "This was apparently one of those incidents."

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