Saturday, January 15, 2011

Trainer crushed by elephant at Tennessee Zoo

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) – An 8,000-pound elephant at a Tennessee zoo backed a trainer into a wall and crushed her to death, and the zoo said on Saturday it had temporarily closed its elephant exhibit.

"It's a difficult day, but our staff is very professional and they are carrying on with their duties today," said Tina Rolen, assistant director of marketing at the Knoxville, Tennessee zoo. She said the review of Friday's tragedy is continuing.

Stephanie James, 33, was fatally injured Friday while performing routine chores involving Edie, a 26-year-old, 8,000-8,500-pound elephant who is 8 and a half feet tall at the shoulder.

"At this point in time we don't believe it to be a malicious act or an aggressive act on Edie's part, but the review is ongoing to determine what happened in the barn," Rolen said.

James, one of four full-time elephant trainers at the zoo, was pushed into the wall in a stall by the animal, said Rolen.

The trainer was taken to nearby University of Tennessee Medical Center, where she died Friday of internal injuries, Rolen said.

"Everyone at Knoxville Zoo is shocked and saddened at the loss of Stephanie," said Jim Vlna, executive director of the zoo. "Our prayers are with her parents, Ron and Kris James, and the rest of her family."

Rolen said Edie, one of three zoo elephants, will not be punished or disciplined in any way. "Our training program is based on positive reinforcement," she said. The zoo was open on Saturday but the elephant display was closed.

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