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Published: Sunday, 7/4/2010

Zoo elephant hurts keeper during attack

BLADE STAFF
Don Redfox, elephant manager at the Toledo Zoo, shown here with Louie on the elephant's 2nd birthday in May 2005, was struck by Louie's tusk Thursday. Don Redfox, elephant manager at the Toledo Zoo, shown here with Louie on the elephant's 2nd birthday in May 2005, was struck by Louie's tusk Thursday.
BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

The Toledo Zoo's elephant manager remained hospitalized overnight with broken ribs and an injured wrist suffered in an attack Thursday afternoon by Louie, the zoo's 7-year-old African elephant who had been cared for all his life by manager Don Redfox.

Mr. Redfox, 53, who lives in Swanton Township, was in the University of Toledo Medical Center, formerly the Medical College of Ohio, where he was taken by ambulance. The hospital confirmed his presence but did not release his condition. The zoo's deputy director, Ron Fricke, said Mr. Redfox was stable and his injuries were not life-threatening.

Mr. Redfox was hit by Louie's tusk, but was not stepped upon and did not suffer piercing wounds. His worst injuries appeared to be the result of a single strong contact.

"Louie's 4,000 pounds could have done a lot more damage," Mr. Fricke said of the incident that occurred about 3:45 p.m.

Mr. Redfox was knocked to the ground in the zoo's main indoor elephant area and was able to get up and out of the area on his own, Mr. Fricke said. He said Mr. Redfox was conscious and talking to medical workers.

The attack occurred in an area not easily visible to visitors; Mr. Fricke said only two are thought to have witnessed it, and one of those only heard a disturbance.

One of those visitors alerted zoo workers, who called for other help, including police and paramedics.

The incident was captured on video by the zoo, which plans to review it with an elephant consultant.

However, it was unclear last night what Mr. Redfox was trying to do with Louie and why Louie became agitated.

"Truth is, we may never know exactly why it happened," Mr. Fricke said.

Prior to the incident, Louie had not shown any signs of aggression, Mr. Fricke said.

And Mr. Redfox, a zoo employee since 1977, has managed the elephant program, which includes three elephants and six keepers in addition to Mr. Redfox, for years.

He attended Louie's birth, supervised his conception, and is a past president of the Elephant Managers Association, an international nonprofit organization of professional elephant handlers, administrators, veterinarians, researchers, and enthusiasts.

This is not mating season and Louie, an adolescent, isn't old enough anyway, Mr. Fricke said.

Louie is not being punished for the incident and was housed with his mother, Renee, 31, last night, Mr. Fricke said.

However, keepers will not immediately be entering Louie's area and will care from him only from protected areas.

The zoo remained open throughout the day. But the exhibit was blocked and all three of its elephants - Louie; his mother, Renee, and Twiggy, 25, were removed from public view for the rest of the afternoon.

All three elephants are expected to be on exhibit today, zoo spokesman Andi Norman said.

Contact Jane Schmucker at:

jschmucker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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