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Circus Elephant Kills Trainer

Circus elephant kills trainer in Pa.

Police say animal was apparently startled, kicked victim staff and news service reports
updated 7:15 p.m. CT, Fri., April 9, 2010

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – An animal trainer died Friday after being kicked by an elephant at a circus.

The accident happened about 5 p.m. at the Irem Shrine Circus in Wilkes-Barre.

Wilkes-Barre Police Lt. Steven Olshefski said the elephant was somehow startled and kicked the trainer, who died at the scene. The trainer was thrown about 20 feet, WNEP reported.

The accident happened when the circus wasn’t open, and the elephant was in a secure area. Police said other trainers rushed to the area and were able to calm the elephant, and the public was never at risk.

© 2010

Elephant kills caretaker hours before performance

By Kristen Gaydos (Staff Writer)
Published: April 10, 2010

WILKES-BARRE – A startled elephant fatally kicked her groomer Friday afternoon, just hours before the start of a performance at the Irem Shrine Circus in Wilkes-Barre.

Circus personnel found the man on the ground near Dumbo, an African elephant, around 4:24 p.m. at the 109th Field Artillery Armory on Market Street, according to city police. Lt. Steve Olshefski said initial reports from fire and emergency medical personnel indicated the elephant was startled and kicked the groomer, who later died.

The name of the groomer was not released Friday pending notification of his family, said Luzerne County Coroner John P. Corcoran. The man, who took care of Dumbo behind the scenes, was not from Luzerne County.

An autopsy is scheduled for Saturday, Corcoran said.

“As far as we know, the elephant is a good animal,” he said.

The elephant was uninjured, but did not perform Friday evening. She was confined in a secure area so she could not be startled again, Olshefski said.

“It was comforted by other trainers and calmed down,” he said.

The show did go on Friday night, but not without a moment of silence for the fallen groomer. Several Shriners stood in a semi-circle in the center ring, hats in hand, during the tribute.

John Richards, Irem Shrine board member, said the groomer was very knowledgeable about elephants and even spent nights on an air mattress to be close to Dumbo, the lone elephant in the circus.

“He slept with the animal right on the floor next to him,” he said.

Richards said the circus has not had any behavioral issues with Dumbo, who was out this week giving rides around the armory floor. He displayed a cell phone picture of his wife riding the elephant around the ring.

“These animals are very well-behaved,” he said. “They’ll pose for you if you have a camera up.”

Police determined it was not a criminal act, but a workplace accident, Olshefski said. Officials from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, were on scene Friday night.

Whether the circus will continue Saturday depends on the result of the investigation, Richards said. He added he was not aware of any past incidents involving Dumbo.

All the circus acts are separate entities procured through Hamid Circus Inc., a circus production company based in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., that has operated for 75 years, according to Richards.

“It’s not a fly-by-night company,” he said. “These guys are very professional.”

Silvie Pomicter, president of animal rights organization Voice of the Animals, said the incident was not surprising since keeping animals in captivity and teaching them “silly tricks” is not natural.

“Elephants in the wild are peaceful, docile animals. Very loving!  What have we done to these peaceful, loving creatures?” she said.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals issued a statement Friday evening, saying, “It should come as no surprise that elephants and other animals sometimes snap and attack circus employees and members of the public.”

Richards said Humane Society officials were at the armory Thursday to inspect the animals and their quarters and found them satisfactory. He said several people who were concerned the animals were being abused found themselves chastened after viewing the animals.

“Every person that has gone in the back has come back and said, ‘Sorry,'” he said.

If the show does go on today, whether the elephant performed would be the trainer’s call, Richards said. He added the Shriners were hoping to obtain grief counselors to talk to the performers and circus personnel.

The Irem Shrine Circus was introduced in 1949. This year, approximately 30,000 people were expected to attend the 13 shows scheduled this week.

The Shriners paid about $75,000 for this season’s shows, opting for more human acts to keep the cost down, Richards said. In addition to Dumbo, about 11 tigers and one lion are part of the circus this year, he added.

Elizabeth Skrapits, staff writer, contributed to this report., 570-821-2118



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