John Bradford, 62, worked as a zookeeper for more than 30 years at the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield. On Friday morning "Patience," a female, 41-year-old, 6,000-pound Asian elephant, crushed him against the ground, killing him instantly.
The incident only took seconds. Zoo officials say that Bradford was trying to coax Patience through a narrow corridor, or shoot, that leads from the elephant barn to the yard, when the elephant suddenly lunged forward, knocking Bradford into the shoot and fatally trampling him.
"He was an extremely well-trained animal handler," spokeswoman Cora Scott says of Bradford. Since Bradford's death, the Dickerson Zoo's Facebook page has become an ad-hoc memorial for the veteran zookeeper, with many posting pictures of the man along with their condolences.
The story is tragic enough as is, but Bradford's death is the second painful loss the zoo has endured this month: Last Friday Pinky, the 50-year-old matriarch of the zoo's elephant herd, died from kidney failure.
In fact, zookeepers had noticed Patience acting oddly hesitant and submissive in the time following Pinky's death, and were monitoring her closely.
A press release states that, in accordance with safety guidelines, Bradford had been accompanied by two other zookeepers while he was moving Patience through the shoot. Neither of the other zookeepers were injured during the incident.
The Springfield Police Department arrived on the scene to conduct an initial investigation, and Scott says more scrutiny will come from other city agencies as well as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Accreditation Commission.
Never one to sit silent when animal-related tragedy strikes, PETA released a statement over the weekend demanding Dickerson Zoo "close its elephant exhibit and send Patience and the three other remaining elephants to a reputable sanctuary."
Here's a clip from a KY3 news story shot last April that features Patience, who appears docile and even playful. (The zookeeper shown in the video is not John Bradford.)
Continue for the Dickerson Zoo's full press release, which contains more details on Bradford's tragic death.