Wild animal trainer deaths and injuries are beginning to pile up. The latest incidents occurred over the weekend when an 8,000-pound elephant backed into a trainer, 33-year-old Stephanie James, crushing her to death against the metal bars of a stall in the Knoxville, Tennessee Zoo. By all accounts, the elephant was not acting aggressively and was obeying commands. On Saturday, a zookeeper had two fingers bitten off by chimpanzees in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.
Earlier this year, the death of a SeaWorld orca trainer prompted an investigation into the subject of employee risk, by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The incident was said to be the worst tragedy in SeaWorld’s history. Still, there are enough killer-whale accidents with trainers recorded that SeaWorld shows an entire video of them as part of its trainer orientation program.
In an Orlando Sentinel article, a former SeaWorld trainer blames himself for the 2-inch-thick medical file he accumulated during his career, saying they were all the result of his mistakes, not the aggressive behavior of an orca. The injuries “were an inevitable consequence of a job that involves intense physical activity and close contact with animals that can be as big as a school bus.”
In September, Atlanta and Miami were both investigating the cause of captive wild animals escaping their cages. Zoo Atlanta found a venomous rattlesnake after it escaped, toured the neighborhood, and was killed by a nearby property owner. Zoo officials said a cage door was not properly secured by a staff member, according to the Associated Press. At Miami’s Jungle Island, a 500-pound Bengal tiger leapt over a tall fence, provoked by a small ape that snuck out of his own cage.