Experts suggested that the new paint odor emitted from a mahout might have irritated the elephant and enraged it into whipping the zookeeper, who had been training it for years, to death at a famous tourist complex in southern Vietnam on Monday.
The theory was released after the death of 28-year-old Doan Huu Tai, an elephant keeper at the famous Dai Nam Tourist Center in Hiep An Ward, Thu Dau Mot City, Binh Duong province.
On December 23 afternoon Tai stepped into the cage of a 9-year-old elephant named Ka, weighing about 2 tons.
He had a can of paint in his hand and was about to begin painting the cage when the animal suddenly raised it trunk, twined Tai’s body and lashed him against the wall of the cage.
The elephant then threw Tai into its water basin. Tai’s head smashed against the wall of the cage. He died later due to serious brain injury.
Dr. Pham Viet Lam, director of the Saigon Zoological and Botanic Gardens, Ho Chi Minh City, said that although elephants or other wild animals have been tamed and fed in artificial habitats, some wild characteristics still remain in these animals.
As for elephants, male elephants are much more difficult to be trained and tamed than female ones.
Therefore, it is necessary to avoid approaching wild animals, including elephants, when strange factors appear in their captive environments created by humans. These strange factors can be color, sound, smell, noise and others, Lam said.
Such strange elements can arouse the wild nature in wild animals and in that case they can attack people, even those who have trained or fed them, Lam said.
In the deadly case on Monday, Lam said it is possible that the smell of the paint Tai brought into the cage irrigated the animal and made it angry.
Sharing the same view as Lam, Tran Van Nguyen, deputy head of Binh Duong Province Forest Protection Sub-Department, said, “After the deadly incident, I consulted many wildlife experts and most of them had the same suspicion that the elephant detected a strange smell from the can of paint and attacked Tai, who was holding the can.
Dr. Vu Ngoc Thanh, a lecturer of biology at the University of Science under Hanoi National University, also said that the elephant could have felt uncomfortable with the smell of paint, so it attacked Tai as a response.
“Elephant trunks, or its nose, are very sensitive to smell. People in the Central Highlands usually use elephants for hunting,” Dr Thanh said.
Tai, a native of southern Vinh Long province, had worked for Dai Nam for 7-8 years. He trained Ka, for many years and the animal has been used in circus shows at the tourist center.
Tiger kills employee of the same company in 2009
On September 10, 2009, two employees at the Dai Nam tourism complex stepped into an empty tiger cage to plant trees.
Suddenly, a tiger in the next-door cage leapt over the fence into where they were working, clawing at the employees. The tiger then bit one of them to death and seriously injured the other.