Trainee nurse gored to death as elephant runs amok at Thai circus

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The Independent Online

A British trainee nurse was killed and her father and sister seriously injured during a holiday visit to a circus after a bull elephant went berserk and charged into the audience.

Geoffrey Taylor had taken his daughters Helen, 23, and Andrea, 20, to visit the show in the Thai resort of Pattaya where they had front row seats. But during the performance the bull elephant hurled its trainer to the ground and began attacking the Taylor family with its tusks.

Video footage taken at the privately run animal park showed Mr Taylor, 53, trying to shield his daughters from the attack. His actions were in vain: Andrea died six hours later despite the efforts of surgeons to stem massive bleeding, while Helen also suffered internal injuries.

Mr Taylor, from Greater Manchester, suffered a fractured leg and was only informed of his daughter's death yesterday morning.

Speaking from his bed in the Bangkok-Pattaya Hospital yesterday, Mr Taylor said: "I'd brought Helen before and we'd told Andrea so much about the elephants - she really wanted to see them.

"There'd never been any bother before but this time the elephant suddenly just lunged at us. We were sitting in the front row and it just started digging its tusks into Andrea's stomach. We tried to help her but it just knocked us out of the way and kept really goring into her. There was blood everywhere, it was terrifying. There was total panic."

The incident happened on Monday afternoon at the Nong Nooch elephant village, near Pattaya, one of Thailand's premier tourist attractions, 80 miles south of the capital, Bangkok. It was the first time that the family had gone on holiday together since the death of Mr Taylor's wife, Jacky, four years ago. They left Britain 10 days ago.

A family friend Michelle Barrow, 26, who shares a house with Helen Taylor in St Helens, Merseyside, said the two sisters were very close.

"Andrea was looking forward to going on holiday the most because she had never been to Thailand before. I think it was the first time they had been away as a family since their mum died," she said. "I don't think Helen is going to cope very well, she has not yet got over the death of her mum."

Another friend, Alan Firth, 21, said Andrea, who was training in Huddersfield and wanted to work as a nurse in Canada, had called him earlier in the week. "She was really looking forward to the holiday," he added. "She rang me on Tuesday night to say that they were having a great time and had been to a water festival and got soaking wet. She said she got sunburnt on the first day."

Yesterday the deputy director of the camp, Sodawan Buranasiri, said they had run elephant shows for 30 years without incident. He said: "We are very shocked and saddened by what happened and want to assure tourists that their safety is our first priority."

However, last month the park paid a Russian tourist 150,000 baht (£2,500) in compensation after a puma wounded her arm.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said that while local police were investigating the incident, unconfirmed reports said the organisers had been charged with the "reckless endangerment of life".

The spokeswoman said that it was likely to be several weeks before Ms Taylor's body could be brought home.

Thai police said it was not clear why the animal had acted in such a way. Setthaphan Buddhani, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Pattaya office, said the animal had not been in "musth" - the periodic state of frenzied sexual excitement experienced by male elephants. This condition - which occurs during the mating season - is the result of a massive boost of testosterone which can make elephants extremely aggressive.

However, Richard Lair, an expert on Thailand's elephants, said he was "not surprised" by the attack.

"I always assume that one in three elephants is a potential killer," he said. "They are wild animals and should not be in captivity. The problem is there are more domesticated than wild elephants in Thailand and they need some form of employment. Considering the phenomenal amount of tourists that see these shows, the safety record is extremely high."

There are about 700 elephant camps dotted around Thailand, which either put on shows or take tourists on short treks accompanied by a handler. The shows are extremely popular, with elephants performing tricks such as playing football, riding on bicycles and balancing on logs.

Tourists are usually able to go right up to the elephants and feed them afterwards, with just a low bar for protection.