USDA finds no issues at SW Mo. zoo after death

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - Federal inspectors have found no issues with the care of an elephant that killed a zookeeper last month in Springfield.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates zoos under the Animal Welfare Act, released a report last week that found "no non-compliant items," the Springfield News-Leader reports . Inspectors went to the zoo last month to examine the care and management of the 41-year-old female elephant named Patience who crushed John Bradford.

City officials have said Bradford, 62, died while moving Patience into a chute that connects the barn stalls to the barn yard. Patience hesitated in the approximately 12-foot-long chute. When Bradford reached for her with a guide to coax her forward, she lunged forward. Bradford was knocked into the chute and crushed against the floor.

USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said before the report's release that the agency would be investigating whether the zoo was fully compliant with regulations, such as those pertaining to safety and training programs, at the time of Bradford's death.

"We look for things like, is the area clean, is the chute in good working condition, is there anything that could injure the animal which may then cause a negative reaction, etc.," Espinosa wrote in an email. "We also discuss handling methods with staff as well as training and background. We look at the equipment used, to make sure the elephants are moved and handled in a humane manner. We also visually examine the elephant involved and look for any wounds or abnormal behavior."

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has also requested a report on Bradford's death from the zoo, Senior Vice President of External Communications Steve Feldman said. Zoo spokeswoman Melinda Arnold said that report can't be issued until outside investigations are completed, and the city's investigation has not been finalized.

Once the zoo association has the report, Feldman said, a commission will determine whether to request more information, conduct an inspection or recommend changes at the zoo. The commission can also decide that it is satisfied with Dickerson Park's report and do none of those.

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