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Paint Fumes Spark Elephant Attack

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

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The smell of fresh paint in his cage apparently incited a two-ton elephant to fatally charge his longtime trainer at a popular tourist complex in Vietnam.

Elephant keeper Doan Huu Tai, 28, was killed about 3:15 p.m. Dec. 23 after he stepped into the cage of 9-year-old Ka with an open can of paint, authorities said. The trainer was apparently planning to paint the cage with the elephant in it.

Doan Huu Tai Elephant
Facebook (left); YouTube

Ka the elephant killed trainer Doan Huu Tai on Dec. 23 when Tai brought paint into paint Ka's cage. Experts say the strange smell likely made the two-ton animal feel threatened.

The scent apparently alarmed Ka, however, although he knew Tai well and had trained with him for seven years. Authorities said the elephant grabbed Tai in his trunk and smashed him against a wall. Ka then flung Tai into the elephant's water basin, and the trainer struck his head against a wall, reports said.

Tai suffered a broken skull and traumatic brain injury and died on the way to the hospital, reports said.

Tai worked for Dai Nam Joint Stock Company, the owner of the Dai Nam Tourist Center in Hiep An Ward, Thu Dau Mot City, for seven or eight years, reports said. He and Ka had performed in circus acts at the tourist center.

Paint Provocation

Experts said Ka had probably been disturbed and aroused by the smell of the paint.

Wild characteristics remain in wild animals, even those that have been trained, tamed and in captivity for years, Dr. Pham Viet Lam, director of the Saigon Zoological and Botanic Gardens, Ho Chi Minh City, told

Wikimedia Commons / Nguyenthibeut

The accident occurred in Vietnam's Dai Nam tourism complex, which opened in 2008. The park includes the country's first safari and the largest artificial sea in Southeast Asia.

Male elephants are much more difficult to train and tame than females, and can be set off by strange smells, colors, sounds and noises in their environments, Lam said.

Lam's opinion was seconded by Tran Van Nguyen, deputy head of Binh Duong Province Forest Protection Sub-Department. He told the news outlet that he had "consulted many wildlife experts, and most of them had the same suspicion": that "the elephant detected a strange smell from the can of paint and attacked Tai, who was holding the can."

Dr. Vu Ngoc Thanh, a lecturer of biology at the University of Science under Hanoi National University, also endorsed the theory, saying Ka probably felt threatened by the smell and attacked its source.

“Elephant trunks, or its nose, are very sensitive to smell," Thanh said. "People in the Central Highlands usually use elephants for hunting."


Tagged categories: Fatalities; Health and safety; Maintenance coating work; Paint application; Ventilation

Comment from Thomas Pickett, (1/8/2014, 8:05 AM)

FYI, the phrase “Paint Fumes” is incorrect. Welding produces fumes, painting produces vapors and mists.

Comment from Mike McCloud, (1/10/2014, 7:50 AM)

This explains a lot about my boss!

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