October 11, 2013
For Immediate Release
Incident details following Friday’s tragedy
SPRINGFIELD, MO — Additional details are now available, following this morning’s zookeeper fatality at Dickerson Park Zoo.
At the time of the incident, approximately 8:45 a.m., zookeepers were in the elephant barn, moving a 41-year-old female elephant, Patience, from the barn stalls into a chute.
The chute functions as a corridor connecting the barn to the yard. The chute is about 12 feet long, with adjustable walls which can made wide or be narrow. A narrow chute is useful for zookeepers to hold the animal when performing an inspection, which takes place at least twice a day. The chute’s walls are made of 6-inch round metal bars, about 10 feet tall, spaced about 15 inches apart — wide enough for a human to walk through, but narrow enough to restrain an elephant.
Elephants are moved through the chute several times a day, and zookeepers reported there was nothing unusual about this particular movement from the barn.
Zookeepers reported that Patience’s behavior had been hesitant and submissive since the Oct. 4 death of Connie (Pinky), the elephant herd’s matriarch. They were watching her carefully, because of this behavior. Three zookeepers were present; a minimum of two zookeepers are required to be present when approaching the protective barrier.
The morning of the incident, Patience hesitated in the chute, and elephant manager John Phillip Bradford, 62, was coaxing her forward. Bradford leaned into the chute, reaching for her with a guide. The animal suddenly lunged forward, knocking Bradford down, into the chute. The animal then crushed Bradford against the floor, killing him instantly.
The other zookeepers moved quickly to pull the animal away from Bradford. The whole incident took place in a matter of seconds.
Bradford’s actions were consistent with zoo policies and AZA Guidelines for Elephant Management and Care.
The Springfield Police Department was onsite immediately after the incident and conducted an initial investigation. When finalized their report will be made available to the City’s internal investigation team, which will include Parks Administration, Dickerson Park Zoo Management, City Safety staff from the Human Resources Department, and any additional resources needed. In addition to the City’s internal investigation, there will be other investigations by appropriate oversight agencies, including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Accreditation Commission.
Dickerson Park Zoo is internationally recognized for its elephant program. The zoo is the recipient of the 1997 Edward H. Bean Award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, honoring the zoo’s elephant breeding program.
Dickerson Park Zoo’s highest priority right now is supporting staff members, friends and family through the tragedy of losing a staff member.
The combined events of losing the elephant herd’s matriarch, Connie (Pinky) to kidney disease Oct. 4, and now the death of elephant manager John Bradford, have had a tremendous impact upon the zoo staff. Zoo officials respectfully request privacy of staff members, friends and family.
No additional information will be released today.
Zoo media contact information for Saturday, Oct. 12:
Jenny Fillmer Edwards, Public Information Administrator, Springfield-Greene County Park Board, 417-224-5510.
Melinda Arnold, Friends of the Zoo Public Relations and Marketing at Dickerson Park Zoo, 417-833-157, ext. 104.
October 11, 2013
Updated information related to zoo fatality
As released earlier today, Dickerson Park Zoo is mourning the death of a longtime zookeeper in an accident this morning.
At approximately 8:45 a.m., Springfield Police and emergency responders were dispatched to Dickerson Park Zoo in response to an accident that occurred in the zoo's elephant barn. Senior zookeeper and elephant manager John Phillip Bradford, 62, and other staff were working with a 41-year-old female elephant, named Patience, when the elephant made a sudden movement, fatally injuring Bradford. Bradford, a 30-year employee of the zoo, died as a result of his injuries. His family has been notified. No other zoo employees were injured.
"This is very sad day for the Zoo family, as well as our community as a whole," said Mike Crocker, Director of Dickerson Park Zoo and Assistant Director of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board.
Counselors and chaplains and are assisting staff.
The zoo remains open to visitors, although the elephants are not currently on exhibit.
Dickerson Park Zoo has notified the proper authorities of the incident, including the US Department of Agriculture, (USDA) which issues animal exhibit licenses, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, through which the zoo has had full accreditation since 1986.
Dickerson Park Zoo follows all AZA standards for elephant management and care (pdf)(Corrected link from earlier version). Elephants are the only species the AZA has developed specific guidelines for elephant care, and Dickerson Park Zoo's elephant handling program, as well as the zoo as a whole, was most recently accredited by the AZA in September 2012.
The AZA noted in the report:
"The zoo's indoor and outdoor elephant areas far exceed the recommended stall and habitat space. The facilities and program provide a complex and stimulating physical and social environment. During the inspection visit, natural behavioral activities, positive social interactions and appropriate activity levels were witnessed with all of the animals."
Zookeepers had been keeping a close eye on Patience and the other female elephant, Moola, following the Oct. 4 death of the zoo's matriarch elephant, Pinky, who died as a result of kidney disease. No disciplinary action will be taken with the animal. The animal will not be euthanized.
The zoo is focusing on offering support to staff members, who are grieving the loss of a co-worker.
"We're unbelievably sad right now, " said Bob Belote, Director of the Springfield Greene County Park Board. "Our Parks family and our Dickerson Park Zoo family is very close, so a loss like this is really painful for all of us."
Media members are kindly asked to allow zoo staff members to grieve, and to send ALL media inquiries to
- Cora Scott, Director of Public Information and Civic Engagement, City of Springfield, 417-380-3352.
- Melinda Arnold, Friends of the Zoo Public Relations and Marketing at Dickerson Park Zoo, 417-833-1570, ext. 104.
- Jenny Fillmer Edwards, Public Information Administrator, Springfield-Greene County Park Board, 417-224-5510.
Resources (all PDF)
- Dickerson Park Zoo's most recent (September 2012) Accreditation report from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums
- AZA Standards for Elephant Management and Care, pages 26-55 of the AZA Accreditation Standards and Related Policies
- The AZA policy on Maximizing Occupational Safety of Elephant Care Professionals at AZA-accredited and AZA-certified Facilities
Zoo, City of Springfield joint statement regarding industrial accident that that took life of zookeeper
October 11, 2013
For Immediate Release
Dickerson Park Zoo, City of Springfield release joint statement regarding industrial accident that that took life of zookeeper
At approximately 8:45 a.m., Springfield Police and emergency responders were dispatched to Dickerson Park Zoo in response to an accident that occurred in the zoo's elephant container. Senior zookeeper and elephant manager John Phillip Bradford, 62, and other staff were handling an elephant when the accident occurred. Bradford, a 30-year-employee of the zoo, died as a result of his injuries. His family, who are located outside of Springfield, have been notified. No other zoo employees were injured.
"This is very sad day for the Zoo family, as well as our community as a whole," said Mike Crocker, assistant parks director/zoo director.
Chaplains are assisting staff, and the zoo remains open to visitors.
Melinda Arnold, FOZ Public Relations/Marketing Director, Dickerson Park Zoo, 417-833-1570, email@example.com
Cora Scott, Director of Public Information & Civic Engagement, 417-864-1009 (office), firstname.lastname@example.org
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Hearts are heavy today at Dickerson Park Zoo as the staff mourns the death of the elephant “Connie,” known locally to the public as “Pinky.”
In August, the zoo announced Connie’s health was declining because of advancing kidney disease. At that time, her weight fluctuated between 6,200 and 6,500 pounds. Connie’s condition rapidly declined in recent days. During the past week, her weight dramatically decreased to 5,600-5,700 pounds.
Late Friday afternoon, she lay down, too weak to stand. In the presence of zookeepers who cared for her every day, the zoo’s veterinarian humanely euthanized Connie. Connie was estimated to be 50 years old; the median life expectancy for an elephant cow is 46.9 years.
“We have been fortunate through the years to celebrate Connie as we cared for her through pregnancies and birth,” says Mike Crocker, Assistant Parks Director for the Zoo. “This is a difficult time for our staff. For most of our staff members, Connie has been at Dickerson Park Zoo for their entire career.”
The zoo’s veterinarian will conduct a necropsy (animal autopsy) to further investigate the cause of Connie’s death. The veterinarian will be assisted by Dickerson Park Zoo’s animal care staff and a veterinary pathologist and veterinary students from the University of Missouri. While preliminary necropsy results will be know this week, pathology reports will not be finalized for some time.
Connie came to Dickerson Park Zoo in November 1981 from the Abilene, Texas, Zoological Gardens. She was wild-born and became an important part of Dickerson Park Zoo’s internationally recognized elephant management program through the 1980s and 90s. Her first pregnancy, in 1985, resulted in stillborn calf. Her second calf, Kate, was born in 1991, and died in 1993 from what was later identified as the elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV). Her third calf, Asha, was born in February 1995; Asha resides at Oklahoma City Zoo.
For the past several years, Connie has been the matriarch of Dickerson Park Zoo’s elephant herd, assuming those responsibilities from Ol’ C.C., who relinquished the duties of matriarch as her health declined. C.C. died in 2010, at an estimated age of 61. Connie continued to be the herd’s matriarch through her final days, even as her health declined.
# # #
Dickerson Park Zoo is a division of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board and is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).With its more than 200 accredited members, AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation and your link to helping animals in their native habitats.