Zoo releases video of elephant injuring trainer

Don RedFox

The family of a Toledo Zoo trainer injured by an elephant July 1 has dropped a restraining order preventing video of the encounter from being released. The family chose to let the video be made public only to dispell rumors that RedFox did something to provoke the incident.

The Toledo Zoo released the security video from the incident on Wednesday. Long-time elephant trainer Don RedFox was critically injured in the encounter which took place inside the elephant exhibit.

Zoo officials are now backing off the word "attack", which they have used before to describe the events of July 1, choosing to call the incident an "encounter" instead.

The zoo says the video clips are of varying lengths because they are triggered by motion. "It then records for five seconds after the motion has stopped and then stops recording," said Cyndi Condit, Zoo Marketing/PR Coordinator.

WARNING: Video may not be suitable for viewers of all ages.

In the video, you first see 7-year-old Louie the elephant in the enclosure alone. RedFox then enters the elephant's enclosure, presumably to prepare it for the evening by placing snacks around the area; he can be seen carrying a bag of carrots and what looks like potatoes. Zoo officials say it looks like the two are surprised to see one another: the elephant turns around and flares his ears while RedFox pauses.

Dr. Anne Baker, the Zoo's Executive Director, says Mr. RedFox must not have had the intention of training Louie at this point: "If Don was planning to work with Louie, the treats would have been in his pockets and he would have called to Louie before entering the enclosure. Don apparently startled Louie when he entered, and it's possible that Don wasn't expecting to see Louie there either."

Louie can then be seen moving towards RedFox before RedFox is able to safely exit through a side gate. A short time later, RedFox re-enters the enclosure with a tool or "guide" in his hand used to steer the animal. No one but RedFox knows why he chose to go back in after the first disturbance but it appears perhaps he is trying to retreive the bag of carrots from Louie.

"I can't speculate on that," said Baker. "I don't know what was in his mind, I don't know what the situation was. I don't know what he was reading from Louie."

Zoo officials have stated that trainers do not normally enter animal spaces alone; however, the video clearly shows RedFox was alone inside the barn with Louie at the time of the incident.

At this point, Louie approaches RedFox then quickly corners the trainer. Louie can be seen bowing his head and tusks or "crouching" toward RedFox who is knocked to the ground. Baker tells NBC24 that an elephant expert has reviewed this video along with a committee of others looking at the case, they believe Louie is "sparring": a form of play fighting that adolescent elephants often partake in.

"It's simply engaging eachother with their tusks and pushing back and forth and it's kind of like kids at the playground seeing who can be king of the mountain--who's bigger, who's stronger," said Baker.

But, of course, RedFox is no equal playing partner for Louie and he struggles to leave the enclosure with broken ribs and punctured lungs.

"(Louie) does let Don leave the enclosure," said Baker. "At any point in time Louie could have killed Don. He did not."

RedFox remains hospitalized, at the University of Toledo Medical Center, with punctured lungs and rib fractures. He has been moved from the intensive care unit and remains in serious condition.

The zoo will continue to investigate the incident once RedFox has been cleared by physicians to discuss the matter. "Based on the video," Dr. Baker said, "we have a pretty good understanding of what happened, but we don't yet know why the incident occurred. The review team has begun to meet; we'll be relying on their expertise as well as Don's years of experience as we try to gain a better understanding of the incident."