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Why did 'tame' elephant trample her handler?

Published Apr 16, 2001

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By Own Correspondent and Sapa

Questions are being asked as to how an elephant - regarded as not aggressive - trampled a 23-year-old man to death.

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Captain Garwin Geldenhuys of Marico police in the North West said the elephant, Tandy, allegedly knocked handler Fiso Mbambo down with her trunk and stepped on him.

Mbambo had been working with elephants for at least three years.

Geldenhuys said the elephant was being used on a film set.

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It seems Mbambo walked past Tandy while she was grazing and the elephant lashed at him with its trunk and trampled on him once.

"We suspect he died of multiple injuries, but the post-mortem will determine the cause of death," said Geldenhuys.

The elephant was used with others in an overseas production shot at Glen Afri game farm near Broederstroom. The animals were supposed to go back to their home in a park in KwaZulu-Natal, but the owner, Brian Boswell, decided to wait until after the weekend to avoid the Easter traffic.

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For that reason, the animals were allowed to graze on a piece of land outside the game farm with the handlers eating nearby.

Like all the others, this elephant was hand-raised and those who know her described the incident as "most unusual".

"Paramedics were there within 10 minutes and spent 30 minutes trying to resuscitate Mbambo, but he died," Boswell said.

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John Brooker, owner of Glen Afri, said: "There were few marks on the handler's body. An elephant's trunk is strong and can sweep you off your feet. I suspect that was what happened and that she then accidentally stepped on him."

He added that if elephants trampled someone with the purpose of killing, the body was usually mangled. The elephant would also flatten the area in rage. But this elephant just went on grazing after stepping on her handler.

Boswell said Tandy was among seven elephants used as background animals for the filming of three movies and a commercial.

Vicky Brooker, co-owner of Glen Afri, said elephants are boisterous and tend to lean on each other and hit each other with their trunks.

Boswell said no final decision had been taken on the elephant's future, but it was believed she would be used for breeding and kept away from people.

She would not be used on the set of the next film, to be shot this week.

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