Elephant rampage, 4 years later Springfield zookeeper's shocking death still felt by many

By  | 

SPRINGFIELD, Mo -- Four years ago this week, an elephant attacked and killed a Springfield zookeeper. For the first time we are seeing where it happened and talking with his family.
At one time being an elephant keeper was seen as one of the most dangerous occupations in the world.
"They're big, intelligent animals. When you're with them, you're exposed and whatever they decide to do, you're not going to be able to stop that in many cases," said Dickerson Park Zoo Director, Mike Crocker.
Nobody knew that better than John Bradford. He worked with Springfield's elephants for 30 years.
"Not a day goes by that we don't think about him," said John's brother, Phil Bradford Jr.
Phil says those elephants were his life's work and his biggest passion.
"He had a real connection with those animals. He worked side by side with them and was with them every day.
Because elephants can be so dangerous zoos already have an extensive safety system.
But it wasn't enough for Patience. She is the elephant that attacked and killed John Bradford four years ago.
Elephant deaths are rare these days. So rare, it only happened 16 times since 1990.
"It kind of surprised me when it happened because of his experience, he knew that elephant and her personality real well," Crocker said.
Nobody knows why it happened. The final safety report didn't fault the zoo or Bradford calling it an 'unfortunate accident beyond anyone's control' but the zoo added more safety precautions anyway.
Four years later, Patience is doing fine. She's 43 now and expected to live well into her 60's, the life expectancy of an African Elephant.
And Bradford's family wants you to know his life's work didn't die with him.
"He worked for elephant conservation and I know that he wouldn't settle for anything less than the best living conditions and life for those animals," Phil Bradford Jr said.
While zoo officials say they don't know why Patience acted out, they speculate it had something to do with the matriarch of the elephant family passing away just a week before this incident. They say it may have changed the group dynamic among the elephants.