FORMER VILAS ZOO ELEPHANT KILLS HANDLER

FORMER VILAS ZOO ELEPHANT KILLS HANDLER

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A former Vilas Zoo elephant with a reputation for being dangerous killed a handler and injured a trainer Friday at The Elephant Sanctuary in southern Tennessee, authorities said.

Winkie, a female Asian elephant, stepped on or kicked a woman handler who was killed "on the spot," said Doug Markham, a spokesman for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. A male trainer was injured when he tried to intervene and was being treated at a local hospital.

The names of the victims were not released.

Winkie weighs 7,600 pounds and came from Burma, according to the sanctuary's Web site.

Winkie has not been euthanized, and it was not clear if there were any plans to do so, Markham said.

At her previous residence at Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Winkie hurt several staffers and visitors, earning a reputation as a "dangerous elephant," according to her biography on the Web site. In 1977, Winkie stomped on a female caretaker. A witness to that incident said that as the caregiver bringing food, the elephant charged across the cage, knocked her down and appeared to try to bite her.

Winkie left the Vilas Zoo in 2000, after activists documented poor living conditions at the zoo. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that the cell Winkie shared with an African elephant named Penny was unacceptable. The animals had spent 16 hours a day chained in a cement-floor holding cell that was often covered in the elephants' urine and feces.

Penny also left Madison in 2000 for a zoo in Ohio.

Winkie is the namesake of the another killer elephant at the Vilas Zoo. In June 1966, the first Winkie pulled a 3-year-old girl through the bars after the child offered the elephant some popcorn. The elephant then threw the child down and stomped her to death. The first Winkie was then sent to a breeding farm near Portland, Ore.

The second Winkie, originally named "Winkie Too," arrived at Vilas Zoo in November 1966 as a 10-month-old. Both animals were named for former zoo director Fred Winkelmann.

The nonprofit Elephant Sanctuary opened in 1995 on 2,700 acres about 60 miles southwest of Nashville and specializes in Asian elephants. Many of the sanctuary's elephants came from performance backgrounds.

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