Zookeepers at Japan’s Fuji Safari Park are mourning the loss of one of their own today, after a 3-ton elephant trampled a veteran worker days after giving birth.
The accident in the Shizuoka Prefecture happened overnight, when zookeepers attempted to separate the newborn from its mother after she began attacking the calf. Four keepers made it out of the elephant enclosure, safely transporting the baby, but the mother quickly turned on Inthavong Khamphone, 30, according to Daisuke Takeuchi, vice-chief of operations at the park.
“[With the newborn], the mother and other elephants were in an unfamiliar setting,” Takeuchi told reporters, holding back tears. “Zookeepers were taking plenty of precautions.”
The incident came two days after the park celebrated the arrival of its first calf, born there. Both the mother and newborn were under 24-hour surveillance.
Khamphone, a veteran elephant specialist with nearly 15 years of experience, moved to Japan from Laos in the summer, with the mother and three other Asian elephants, according to Japanese media reports.
This isn’t the first time a zookeeper has been killed at Fuji Safari Park. Brown bears attacked two workers in 2005 as they tried to move the animals to the larger “Safari zone,” according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.
A 34-year-old worker died, while another sustained injuries to his eye.
An investigation into the latest incident shut down the park today.