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Elephant Accidentally Kills Handler

Elephant Accidentally Kills Handler

An elephant at a zoo in Knoxville, Tennessee accidentally killed one of her handlers last week. 

The elephant is a 26-year-old female named Edie who weighs over eight thousand pounds and stands eight and a half feet tall. She has lived at the Knoxville Zoo since 2002.

The handler, Stephanie James, was killed accidentally when Edie pinned her against a stall. The incident was not as a result of violent behavior by Edie, nor did she seem aggressive or frightened at the time.

All of the standard safety procedures were being followed, and James was working with another handler at the time. After James was pinned to the stall, the other trainer told Edie to move and release James and she did. James’ internal injuries, however, were severe and she died later in a nearby hospital.

When we advocate against zoos, we do so because the concept of a zoo is inherently unjust and the circumstances of confinement-as-entertainment are always miserable for the animals. When we try to educate people about a vegan diet, we do so because it is unethical to view sentient beings as existing for our consumption with no moral scruples whatsoever. When we work to end animal testing, it is because of the horrors associated with forcing animals to endure torture in the vain hope that it may benefit human health, somehow, eventually.

But no matter how often our critics accuse us of being so pro-animal that we are anti-human, one cannot fail to see the supplementary benefits to humanity when we respect animals. Benefitting animals doesn’t harm humans; in fact, quite the opposite.

While human deaths related to animal entertainment are relatively rare, it doesn’t make the individual deaths easier to bear for the loved ones affected. Every time a trainer or a handler is killed in a zoo or a circus, we see the terrifying human cost of these industries. 
When we see that a plant-based diet reduces the risk of many of the deadliest conditions affecting humanity, we can see the benefit to humanity of respecting animals. When we view the unnerving information about the failure of animal testing to determine the safe use of medicines in humans, we see the fallacy that hinders medicinal progress.

Holding enormous animals like elephants captive in small enclosures, trying to tame them and control them will only result in misery for the animals and occasionally dire consequences for the humans who handle them. 
By supporting animal entertainment and animal consumption, we not only forfeit our own humanity, but we put ourselves at risk for unnecessary pain and death.

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Photo: Rennett Stowe

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159 comments

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9:06AM PDT on May 9, 2013

This is so very sad for the individual who lost her life, but these tragedies do happen and that is a fact of life. When one works with wild animals there is always a risk element and that is something that Stephanie must have been fully aware of. She was very privileged to be with these majestic creatures, not something that many of us can be fortunate enough to experience, but having said that, I feel extremely sorry for Stephanie's family, friends and colleagues having lost her under such tragic circumstances. Then there is Edie, elephants being extremely intelligent, it makes you wonder how this has affected her. I am of the firm belief that all wildlife should be living "wild" not imprisoned and if this had been the case, then this tragic accident would never have happened!

2:39AM PDT on May 2, 2013

Good for her! More elephants should kill theirvtrainers as payment for the torture they go through every day.

4:49PM PDT on Apr 2, 2011

Sorry but that's the chances you take keeping wild animals locked up.

3:26PM PST on Feb 24, 2011

Sorry for Stephanie, but Edie obeyed the other handler and moved. We shouldn't be keeping animals in cages. They have a right to live in their own environment.

8:26AM PST on Feb 15, 2011

Holding enormous animals like elephants captive in small enclosures, trying to tame them and control them will only result in misery for the animals and occasionally dire consequences for the humans who handle them.
By supporting animal entertainment and animal consumption, we not only forfeit our own humanity, but we put ourselves at risk for unnecessary pain and death.
DITTO!!!

8:03AM PST on Feb 15, 2011

Ngozi, you say you hate violence and killing and yet you eat meat, which has involved both! If you ate meat because you were unable to digest grains and/or pulses I could maybe understand your consumption of meat...but to just say you "love meat," without any qualifying reason for doing so, suggests to me you are actually indifferent (at best) to both violence and killing.

4:49AM PST on Jan 29, 2011

In a perfect world, zoos would be unnecessary. And while there are still far too many that are around just for human entertainment, and therefore do not care properly for the animals, reputable zoos work together for animal conservation, public education, & humane research. The fact is, many animals, elephants included, would be hunted to extinction if not for zoos & wildlife sanctuaries.

As a resident of Knoxville & a fan of the zoo, I happen to know that this is one of the good ones. They make every effort to provide all of the animals with as natural an environment as possible, enrichment, stimulation, & proper care. The zoo also tries to educate the public about both the animals & the environment. The welfare of the animals is always put before the wants of the viewing public, so you sometimes see few animals there as they all sleep away the heat of the day out of sight in their habitats.

Finally, the handler was not working with the elephant for public entertainment. She was doing so to provide enrichment and to make it easier to work with the elephant when veterinary care is needed. The Knoxville Zoo does not have elephant shows.

10:09PM PST on Jan 26, 2011

I couldn't agree more with the sentiments expressed in this article. Thank you !

5:53AM PST on Jan 26, 2011

A life, yes, was tragically lost due to the same reasons so many lives are lost 'handling' or traininig of these magnificent creatures. The this woman knew of the dangers in working with an animal like this does not diminish the fact she lost her life working with an animal she loved.

I am saddened for this magnificent creature as well!

4:20AM PST on Jan 26, 2011

are we discussing the same topic? i mean a human being lost their life here. show some sympathy. even if Eddie let Stephanie go afterwards, the damage had already being done. wild animals are wild, whether they are confined or not. there are lots of zoos with space for animals to roam about,. i love meat, i respect vegans and i hate violence against animals. burning them alive and all. but a death occurred here, people

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