Following an incident during an elephant training session at Taronga Zoo last October where a Senior Keeper was injured, the Zoo’s Life Sciences Division conducted an investigation to better understand the circumstances that led to that event.
The investigation included a full review of the incident, as well as reassessments of the zoo’s elephant husbandry procedures and policies, behavioural assessments of the elephant calf and the wider herd and a review of facilities to understand if they contributed to the event in any way.
The (Acting) General Manager Life Sciences, Research and Conservation, Dr Rebecca Spindler said today: “We’ve undertaken a comprehensive review of what occurred in this incident because it was vitally important that we understood exactly what happened and could identify anything in our program that needed to be changed to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our keepers, as well as the ongoing health of our elephant herd.”
“We looked at the incident from a number of perspectives, and the investigation concluded that the actions of the zoo staff and the elephant management procedures and policies were not at fault. Additionally, there was no failure of facilities that caused the accident”.
“However, the daily assessments that our keepers undertake on all the elephants had picked up the emergence of some particularly boisterous behaviour in two year old male calf Pathi Harn in the days prior to the accident. He was particularly reacting to a female elephant that was in season.”
“At that time, Taronga’s male calves Luk Chai, 3 ½ and Pathi Harn had already been in training to transition to a more hands-off management style for the previous five months, which is a normal step in managing maturing males.”
“It was actually during one of these training sessions with his keeper, Lucy Melo that Pathi Harn lifted his trunk and pinned her to a pole. Two other keepers adjacent to Lucy were able to guide the calf away and call for medical assistance.
“We take any matters such as this very seriously, and our investigation has determined that Pathi Harn was experiencing hormonal surges at a much younger age than most males, and this may have triggered unpredictable changes in his behaviour.
“We immediately put in place strict protective measures for any interactions with Pathi Harn and these remain. Additionally, we’ve determined to accelerate the transition of our male calves into the more hands-off management style, called Restricted Contact, and this is currently underway.
“These young calves are just starting the process of maturing into bull elephants, and a bull will naturally seek to take more control of his environment, so from here on our calves will be managed with a protective barrier between them and their keepers, or comparable security measures.
“We’re very proud of the elephant program at Taronga Zoo and it has seen some extraordinary successes to date. However, this was an accident with very serious consequences, and we’ve acted to ensure that our ongoing practices, behaviour assessments and facilities continue to support the program and ensure the wellbeing of keepers and elephants alike,” said Dr. Spindler.