(KNOXVILLE, Tenn.) -- An African elephant that crushed handler Stephanie James at the Knoxville Zoo will not be punished. Officials at the Knoxville zoo now believe that James' death was an accident.
"The elephants acted as they should in that situation. In other words when they received a command, they responded. She responded in this case," Jim Vina, executive director of the Knoxville Zoo, said.
The 8,000-pound African elephant backed James into a stall on Friday, pushing her into metal bars.
"When something is...up to four tons...and that animal...pushes you against a wall or whatever inside tight quarters, you don't have a chance. It's just that powerful an animal," renowned zookeeper Jack Hanna said.
The 26-year-old elephant, named Edie, was not acting aggressively and followed the desperate commands of another handler to move back, zoo officials said.
When Edie followed the commands to move away from James, it was too late. The 33-year-old James lay crumpled against a stall. Medics rushed her to the hospital where she later died.
For now, zoo officials are keeping the zoo's three elephants away from direct human contact.
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