Celebrity elephant kills handler at Chiang Mai Zoo

Celebrity elephant kills handler at Chiang Mai Zoo
Celebrity elephant Ekkasit stands next to one of Chiang Mai Zoo's elephant handlers in this undated photo.

A 32-year-old male elephant fatally attacked its keeper at Chiang Mai Zoo yesterday morning, acting zoo director Wutthichai Moungman later confirmed. Senior mahout Somsak Riang-ngern died instantly.

According to AFP, the elephant has starred in feature films and commercials.

The attack at the elephant camp took place at 8am when the five-tonne Plai Ekkasit, which has apparently been in rut since Sunday, suddenly hit Somsak, who was preparing to feed it, with its trunk.

It then pressed its immense weight against the man, killing him, Wutthichai said.

The animal had been close to Wutthichai since a very young age and was generally friendly and good-natured, so it is believed that Somsak thought he was safe and that he had control over it.

Wutthichai said the tragedy had distressed many staff at the zoo. The elephant was now being kept in strong chains in a safe forested area under the supervision of mahouts from a distance.

Photo: The Nation/Asia News Network

Describing Somsak as an "elephant expert," the director said the 32-year-old animal was in musth - a condition in which their testosterone levels surge and they exhibit highly aggressive behaviour - when the accident happened, AFP reported.

Ekkasit, who according to a zoo official appeared in Thai and foreign films as well as several television advertisements, was being temporarily housed at the zoo under a contract due to expire in April.

Wutthichai said elephant shows and feeding displays would be postponed indefinitely. He said the zoo offered its condolences to Somsak's family in Surin.

The incident has set off fresh debate over the kingdom's animal tourism industry.

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