Joaquin Gutierrez Arnaiz, 44, was a caretaker of the elephants at Cabarceno Natural Park near the northern city of Santander, and was on his duty when he “accidentally” got hit by a single strike of the trunk of a female elephant weighing around 4,000kg (8,800lb) on Wednesday morning.
He was cleaning her and other animals as part of their daily routine. The elephant was reportedly with her calf in the compound when she struck Arnaiz with her trunk with force, according to local media reports.
The zoo confirmed the incident in a statement: “A worker at the Cabarceno Natural Park has died after being hit by one of the elephants. The accident occurred at 8:30am on Tuesday outside the stables of the pachyderms, as daily cleaning and release of the animals began.”
“Joaquin’s death has caused great commotion” among his colleagues and Cantur, the publicly-owned company which manages the park, said the statement.
According to the zoo, two of his co-workers spotted him in an injured state and rushed him to the hospital while he was still conscious, but he lost his life three hours later at around 11 am.
“We’re talking about unpredictable animals,” Javier López Marcano, the tourism minister in the regional government of Cantabria which owns the zoo, was quoted by AFP as saying.
“The force of the strike was tremendous, of a magnitude that one could not survive,” he said.
The incident is the first casualty in the park in its 31 years of history. The local police and the zoo have begun investigating the matter.
According to local media reports, Arnaiz had been working at the zoo for over two decades.
The zoo is one of the main tourist attractions of the region of Cantabria and is home to almost 120 animal species including wolves, tigers, lions etc.