Chaplains are assisting staff, and the zoo remains open to visitors. 

The Springfield Police Department is investigating.  Barb Theriot, area director of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration says her agency will not investigate this case because it has no jurisdiction over state, county, and municipal workplaces.

More from a news release from the City of Springfield:

Dickerson Park Zoo has notified the proper authorities of the incident, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, (USDA), which issues animal exhibit licenses, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, through which the zoo has had full accreditation since 1986.

Dickerson Park Zoo follows all AZA standards for elephant management and care.  Elephants are the only species the AZA has developed specific guidelines for elephant care, and Dickerson Park Zoo’s elephant handling program, as well as the zoo as a whole, was most recently accredited by the AZA in September 2012.

The AZA noted in the report:

“The zoo’s indoor and outdoor elephant areas far exceed the recommended stall and habitat space. The facilities and program provide a complex and stimulating physical and social environment.  During the inspection visit, natural behavioral activities, positive social interactions and appropriate activity levels were witnessed with all of the animals.”

Zookeepers had been keeping a close eye on Patience and the other female elephant, Moola, following the death on Oct. 4 of the zoo’s matriarch elephant, Pinky, who died as a result of kidney disease.  No disciplinary action will be taken with the animal.  The animal will not be euthanized.

The zoo is focusing on offering support to staff members, who are grieving the loss of a co-worker.

“We’re unbelievably sad right now, “ said Bob Belote, director of the Springfield-Greene County Parks Department.  “Our Parks family and our Dickerson Park Zoo family is very close, so a loss like this is really painful for all of us.”

Patience the elephant

Zoo directors say Patience will not be euthanized.  This photo is from April 2013.

Bradford talked to a Springfield News-Leader reporter in 1999 about his work at the zoo.  At the time, his title was animal health technician.

"Some animals won't have anything to do with you," Bradford said, describing how animals aren't always fond of their keepers.

In the News-Leader report, Bradford said he worked with animals who have problems.  His responsibilities at the time included "managing the zoo's hospital and acting as a liaison between the keepers and the two veterinarians that serve the zoo," the report said.

Bradford said in the report that zoo employees need to have compassion and empathy for the animals, and must display confidence to the animals.

"They know if you mean business.  You can't hesitate or be insecure," he told the News-Leader reporter. 

He also talked about enjoying a variety of experiences in his job.

"I learn something new every day.  Every day is different," Bradford said in 1999.


Statement from Association of Zoos and Aquariums Executive Director Kristin Vehrs:

“We extend our deepest sympathies to our friends and colleagues at the Dickerson Park Zoo and to the family of John Bradford for their tragic loss.

The safety of staff and visitors at AZA-accredited facilities is of the utmost importance.  In due course, there will be investigations by regulatory agencies and by the AZA Accreditation Commission, but right now we’re focused on comforting our colleagues as they cope with this tragic situation.”

For reference, the AZA Standards for Elephant Management and Care can be accessed here: AZA Accreditation Standards and Related Policies (pages 26-55).

The AZA policy on Maximizing Occupational Safety of Elephant Care Professionals at AZA-accredited and AZA-certified Facilities can be found here.