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Zookeeper in Southwest Missouri Killed by Elephant

October 11, 2013

Veteran zookeeper John Bradford killed when he was charged by 41-year-old female elephant named Patience at the Dickinson Park Zoo.

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A longtime zookeeper in southwest Missouri was killed Friday morning when he was hit by an elephant, a spokeswoman for the city of Springfield said.

City spokeswoman Cora Scott says 62-year-old John Bradford died Friday after an elephant at the Dickerson Park Zoo made a sudden movement and hit him. No other zoo employees were injured.

Scott initially said the elephant charged Bradford, based on early reports from the scene. But she later changed that account based on new information.

Bradford worked at the zoo for 30 years and had been the zoo's elephant manager for 25 years.

The elephant, a 41-year-old female named Patience, had been at the zoo since 1990. Zoo officials said Patience won't be euthanized. The zoo opened as usual on Friday, although the elephants weren't on exhibit.

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"It's an extremely sad time for the co-workers at the zoo and at the city," Scott said.

Several employees were with Bradford at the time because Patience had a history of being aggressive, she said. City officials initially had said that Patience had charged zoo, based on early reports from the scene, but they later clarified that account, saying only that the elephant made a sudden movement and hit him.

The zoo has two female and two male elephants. Scott said in a news release that zookeepers had been keeping a close eye on the female elephants since the death earlier this month of the zoo's matriarch elephant, Connie.

Paul Price, a longtime friend and former co-worker of Bradford, told the Springfield News-Leader that elephants were Bradford's passion.

"He had a great deal of respect and love for them and cared about the conservation," Price said.

"He was always aware of dangers and everything and was instrumental in developing the elephant management program at the zoo at the national and international levels," he added.

Zoo officials said that Patience won't be euthanized and that no disciplinary action will be taken with her. The zoo opened as usual on Friday, although the elephants weren't on exhibit. The zoo notified the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums about Bradford's death.

"This is very sad day for the zoo family, as well as our community as a whole," said Mike Crocker, assistant parks director and zoo director.

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