A keeper at London Zoo was trampled to death by an elephant in front of about 100 horrified onlookers.
The zoo was closed to the public yesterday after the death of Jim Robson, 44, who had worked there for 26 years. He had tripped while inside the elephant pavilion on Saturday afternoon and was attacked by one of three female Asian elephants, said Debbie Curtis, a zoo spokeswoman.
He was treated at the scene before being taken by helicopter to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, but died 10 minutes after arrival.
Adele Bridle, 20, who was one of about 100 visitors who watched the horrific events unfold, said: "We heard the elephants making strange noises. When we got to the enclosure the keeper was lying with blood coming out of his ears.
"Two of the elephants were still standing over him and wouldn't leave him alone. He had three elephant footprints on him: one on his chest, one on his stomach and one on his back.
"Paramedics, an ambulance and an air ambulance arrived. By this time there were about 100 people, some of them hysterical, who were looking at what was happening."
Nick Lindsay, a senior curator at the zoo in Regent's Park, paid tribute to Mr Robson, who was unmarried. "Jim was an able, dedicated and experienced keeper who spent 16 of his 26 years at the zoo working with elephants. He had a deep bond and love for the three elephants he worked with and was at his happiest when with them. Everyone is shocked and upset." Mr Robson's father, Jim, and brother, Steven, said: "Jim loved all animals and ever since he was a young child it was his ambition to be a zookeeper. We're going to miss him a great deal."
The zoo was unable to confirm which of the elephants, Ylang-Ylang, Dilberta and Mya, had attacked Mr Robson, or to confirm eyewitness reports that the other two elephants had joined in the attack. The zoo denied that Ylang-Ylang, who has been reported to be showing signs of stress by swaying from side to side, was to blame.
A recent report by the Born Free Foundation into the elephants' living conditions, which comprise a concrete and bare earth enclosure, concluded that they were "unacceptable".
Ros Varnes, an RSPCA spokeswoman, said: "The fact that this has happened indicates that there is something wrong with the way the elephants are being kept."Reuse content