The accident problem - background

Elephant attacks on humans are so numerous that we had to start a separate rubric in "Elefanten-Magazin". Below you can find a small selection from recent history:

  • elephant-related accidents – 26/2015 (in German)
  • elephant-related accidents – 25/2014 (in German)
  • elephant-related accidents – 22/2012 (in German)
  • elephant-related accidents – 21/2012 (in German)
  • elephant-related accidents – 2010 (in German)

Unavoidable dangers in Direct (Free) Contact Management

For some 4,000 years, man has been trying to “tame” elephants; and right from the start, this tradition has been accompanied by disastrously high numbers of accidents in which countless people have died or been injured – and it continues to this very day. Unlike other powerful wild animals, almost all elephants in human care, including in zoos, used to be kept, trained and dominated in direct contact with humans, i.e. the keepers.

As a result of these husbandry conditions, the elephant became the most dangerous wild animal kept in zoos and circuses.

Over the past 150 years, hundreds of people have been killed or seriously injured by elephants in zoos and circuses. The estimated number of unreported cases of accidents in circuses (and zoos), occurring behind the scenes, is far higher. For a long time, elephant owners in zoos and circuses, both in Asia and in the West, even tried to dominate male elephants. Male elephants have killed so many people that expressions such as “There is one dead keeper for every male elephant” have become established among elephant owners. In the 20th century the problem was believed to have been solved by no longer keeping the dangerous male elephants or by changing their keeping system. However, this proved to be a fatal misapprehension.

Attacks and break-outs – elephant husbandry in circuses is a history of accidents

There is evidence of at least 52 people having been killed and approx. 145 injured (some of them seriously) by elephants in circuses (Europe/North America) since 1980. More than 100 of these some 130 accidents were verifiably caused by female elephants: the quota exceeds 75 %. As long as these wild animals are kept in travelling circuses, such attacks will remain unavoidable.

The problem of female-related accidents in zoos is escalating

According to our research, 51 people have been killed and more than 100 injured (some of them seriously) in zoos and safari parks (the evidence relates mainly to Europe and North America). Among the more than 100 elephants that caused the accidents, 85 were female animals – a proportion of almost 80 %. In 2001 alone, 3 keepers were killed by female elephants in European zoos (Chester, Dvur Kralove, London). Two of the female elephants involved in the fatal attacks “died” shortly afterwards.

Young elephants – dangerous in Free Contact Management

While, these days, almost all adult elephant bulls are kept without Free Contact, some 40 % of the European zoos are still trying to keep female and young ones in Free Contact. However, at least 30 attacks worldwide caused by young elephants aged seven or less have been documented.

Safety concept for humans and elephants in zoos

It is a fact that of the 32 elephant facilities in the German-speaking area, 28 have experienced attacks by elephants on humans. This corresponds to a proportion of almost 90 % of the elephant-keeping zoos in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In only very few of the some 150 elephant-keeping zoos and safari parks where, if necessary, uncontrollable female elephants may be cared for without putting the keepers in danger. This is an indication of massive failures on the parts of the zoos. For this reason, over the past years, the European Elephant Group, a working group of ELEFANTEN-SCHUTZ EUROPA e.V., has developed a functional concept for the construction of elephant stables and their connections to the inside and the outside compounds, ensuring danger-free elephant care by the keepers for both male and female animals. The safety concept is variable and may thus be adapted to the basic construction planning of the zoos and their architects. Even if the management team of a zoo wishes to initially keep their elephants in Direct Contact: should a change of the husbandry system become necessary due to aggressive elephants, this may be implemented without any problem provided the safety concept is in place.

Transfer of dangerous elephants through ELEFANTEN-SCHUTZ EUROPA e.V.

As late as a few decades back almost all elephants that had become uncontrollable were killed. Except for four or five zoos, at the end of the 20th century, hardly any zoo had the prerequisites in place to be able to keep aggressive female elephants. Thanks to our association’s contacts, several elephants that had become dangerous in Direct Contact, could be transferred to suitable facilities.  The transfer of the African elephant cow “Zambi” has become the symbol of the efforts made by our association. Read about the now mother of four who, following several attacks on her keepers in Germany, was a death candidate at the beginning of the 1990s: Cabarceno – the rescue for “Zambi“.


In this context, please, have a look at on which aspects of elephant-related accidents ELEFANTEN-SCHUTZ EUROPA e.V. focuses in particular!


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