The Knoxville News Sentinel reports on a tragic death of a zoo elephant keeper at the Knoxville Zoo.

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Stephanie James didn’t need to die.  If the Knoxville Zoo used protected contact which means that there is always a barrier between the elephant and keeper, James would be alive today.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) which accredits zoos abrogated their responsibility by not requiring protected contact as a condition for accreditation. Protected contact is used in only about half of AZA accredited zoos.

However looking at the bigger picture:  It’s time for humans to understand that we can’t take a highly intelligent and social animal like an elephant and deprive it of all that is instinctual.  If the public knew what it takes to dominate an 8,000 pound elephant they would be appalled.  Edie’s reaction to decades of dominance, severe confinement, lack of space and sensory deprivation is not surprising – about 1 elephant keeper a year is killed in zoos and circuses.

The answer to saving keeper lives is to not display elephants in zoos in the first place.

Read the full story here

2 Responses to “Tragedy at the Knoxville Zoo”

  1. Gena on 19 Jan 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    In the interest of accuracy and fairness, I must point out that the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary (TES) also manages elephants in “free contact” and also lost a staff member to an elephant attack.

  2. FOWPZE reply on 19 Jan 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    Winkie who killed Joanna was taken from the wild as a baby. She was taken from her mother with who she should have spent her entire life. She was moved around to zoos in which she suffered from all that is inherently inhumane about keeping elephants in confinement and isolation.
    The tragedy at The Elephant Sanctuary was extensively studied and was determined that Winkie suffers from PTSD. The zoo environment causes elephants to be physically and psychologically ill. Elephants in zoos die decades before their natural 60 – 70 year lifespan.
    The Elephant Sanctuary’s philosophy is to rehabilitate elephants so they may reclaim their lives. A far cry from poor Edie’s life of deprivation. Here is more about Winkie:

    Trauma recovery is demanding for both the victim and the caregiver
    because recovery can entail dramatic changes. Trauma survivors are learning
    how to live again. Trauma survivors are faced with re-building who they are and
    how to find meaning after having it taken away. But, as decades of PTSD
    research on victims of violence, genocide, and wars attests, the past cannot be
    undone and trauma will haunt some individuals for the rest of their lives. The
    tragedy of Winkie and Joanna bring this lesson to heart.
    Winkie’s history is sadly consistent with those of victims of multiple
    traumas sustained over decades. She experienced nearly all of the precipitating
    traumas that lead toward a diagnosis of PTSD. Winkie was taken from the wild
    at a young age from her family, and lived many years under the duress of closed
    confinement with all of its concomitant stressors. Happily, like all the elephants
    who have come to The Elephant Sanctuary, her physical and psychological
    health improved tremendously. However, again consistent with PTSD
    survivorship, her symptoms appeared to recur in what is described as a PTSD
    flashback. Just prior to the accident, Winkie was undergoing some reaction to ant
    bites. It is very possible that this could have caused her to be in some pain and
    distress lowering her threshold for managing her own stress. Heightened
    reactivity to stress coupled with compromised affect regulation often leads to
    impulsive behaviors, particularly in those suffering from PTSD. After the
    incident, Winkie expressed remorse and depression, both symptomatic and
    consistent with post-flashback experience.
    Nonetheless, Winkie’s remarkable recovery relative to her troubled past
    reminds us of how much can be done to help victims of trauma. Given the
    multiple, severe traumas that all Sanctuary resident elephants have sustained in
    their past, the absence of other incidents is a testimony to the remarkable success
    of The Elephant Sanctuary in supporting effective trauma recovery. Research on
    elephant trauma recovery continues at The Elephant Sanctuary to deepen our
    understanding of how we can help elephant, and human, trauma survivors heal.
    Violence leaves a terrible legacy—a burden of the past that the present
    and future must bear. We may never know the exact stimulus that triggered
    Winkie’s traumatic memory and caused her to suddenly act violently. But what
    we do know, and what Joanna and Winkie’s tragedy compels, is that the
    traumatic circumstances that lead to PTSD need to be prevented.
    Table I:
    PTSD Restoration and Treatment Goals Supported at The Elephant
    Sanctuary for Elephant Recovery
    1-agency, self-efficacy, mastery, perceived control
    2- self-esteem, hope, and optimism
    3-relaxation, competence, and assertiveness
    4- telling your story (“developing a coherent narrative” ), participatory listening
    5- elephant social bonding
    6-human social bonding
    7-health and wellbeing
    8-avoidance of isolation or marginalization
    9-no threats or domination (passive control)
    10-healthy, safe living environment
    11-personal change in mood, diet, behaviour, and social alliance changes

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