Christmas tragedy at M'sia wildlife park after head keeper, 49, gored to death by pygmy elephant

He left behind his wife and his three school-going children.

Fiona Tan | December 31, 2022, 12:22 PM

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A 49-year-old man was gored to death by a pygmy elephant in a Malaysia wildlife park.

Gored in the chest and abdomen

The incident happened at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park located in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia at about 8:30am on Dec. 25, 2022, The Star reported.

Joe Fred Lansou, who worked at the wildlife park, was alone in the elephant's enclosure and in the midst of treating an injured pygmy elephant calf before another adult elephant attacked him.

AFP quoted Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga as saying that the adult elephant "tusked [Lansou] very badly".

He was apparently pierced at least three times in the chest and abdomen by the tusks of a pygmy elephant named Kejora, also known as Joe by its nickname.

The attack left Lansou fatally wounded and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Penampang police officers have classified the case as sudden death and ruled out any foul play, but are investigating the incident.

Head keeper who dedicated his life to endangered elephants

Lansou was the head elephant keeper at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, where he lead a team of five staff members in managing the 16 pygmy elephants within the park.

Kejora was the sole survivor of a deadly poisoning incident in 2013 that killed a herd of 14 Borneo pygmy elephants, including Kejora's mother.

Lansou was known to be a "brave and daring" ranger that had been actively involved in caring for the elephants in captivity as well as those in the wild, The Star reported.

Borneo Wildlife Preservation paid tribute to Lansou in a Facebook post, stating that he was a "passionate, kind man who lived a life dedicated to caring for the lives of endangered Bornean elephants."

Image from Borneo Wildlife Preservation/Facebook.

Image from Borneo Wildlife Preservation/Facebook.

Image from Borneo Wildlife Preservation/Facebook.

Lansou leaves behind a wife and three school-going children.

"Too many elephants in captivity"

This is the first time that a Sabah Wildlife Department ranger was killed in an elephant attack, and conservation officials have dubbed the incident a Christmas Day tragedy.

Pygmy elephants, a distinct subspecies of mainland Asian elephants, are unique to Borneo island.

These animals are endangered and there are less than 2,000 left in the wild in Sabah.

The Star reported Malaysian social and environmental activist Jefferi Chang as commenting that there are "just too many elephants in captivity in Sabah".

He suggested for some of them to be sent to zoos overseas.

However, Tuuga noted that most of the 26 elephants in three wildlife facilities in Sabah, including the 16 at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, would not be able to survive if they are released into the wild.

Kejora the elephant is currently being isolated "to avoid contact with the staff".

Culling the animal is not an option, Tuuga said, and some overseas zoos are reportedly prepared to accept Kejora.

Activists call for an inquiry

Following Lansou's death, Chang noted that such "unfortunate" incidents, where animals attack their handlers, are rare in zoos across the world.

He called on authorities to look into whether Sabah Wildlife Department has an "active and clearly observed standard operating procedure in place".

He added that a fatal incident can only occur if the management does not have the safeguards in place for its personnel to handle wild animals.

Sabah's tourism, culture and environment minister Jafry Ariffin said separately that the Sabah Wildlife Department had adequate standard operating procedures in place and described Lansou's death as a "very unfortunate" incident.

He later responded to calls by activists to conduct an inquiry into the incident and said: "We will have to discuss with the concerned parties (at the ministry)."

Top image from Facebook of Seratu Aatai and Borneo Wildlife Preservation