Elephant Kills Missouri Zookeeper
PHOTO: John Bradford and elephant

A zookeeper was crushed to death by a three-ton elephant in a Missouri zoo today while trying to coax the animal, named Patience, through a chute.

John Phillip Bradford, 62, the manager of the elephants at the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Mo., was killed instantly while he and other zookeepers were in the elephant barn early this morning, according to Cora Scott, a spokeswoman for the city of Springfield.

"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," Scott said in a statement.

At approximately 8:45 a.m today, the staff was moving Patience from the barn stalls into a chute, which functions as a corridor connecting the barn to the yard. The chute is about 12 feet long, with adjustable walls that can make the chute wide or be narrow, according to officials.

Patience was hesitating while being ushered into the chute and, according to officials, Bradford leaned in, reaching for her with a guide. Patience suddenly lunged forward, knocking Bradford down and into the chute, then crushed him against the floor.

The other zookeepers moved quickly to pull the animal away from Bradford, officials said, adding that the entire incident happened within a matter of seconds.

Bradford had worked at the zoo for 30 years. No other staff members were injured.

"This is very sad day for the zoo family, as well as our community as a whole," Mike Crocker, director of Dickerson Park Zoo, said in a statement.

Zookeepers had "been keeping a close eye on Patience" following the Oct. 4 death of the zoo's matriarch elephant, Pinky, who died as a result of kidney disease, according to officials.

"No disciplinary action will be taken with the animal. The animal will not be euthanized," Scott said.

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