Saturday, February 23, 2008
It was in May of 1993 when Axel Gautier, the world famous trainer for Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, was stomped to death. Descended from six generations of Swedish performers, this 35-year veteran developed such elaborate tricks as getting elephants to walk sideways on their hind legs. He was on sabbatical from the Greatest Show on Earth and decided to tour the company's private breeding operations in Williston, Florida. Significantly, this facility--just like its zoological counterparts--was opened in response to stricter laws and regulations that were being passed to regulate the exportation of elephants from foreign countries. Circuses and zoos no longer had easy access to their labor pool. They needed a new, more reliable source. Thus, breeding programs and "conservation centers" sprung up around the country. As for Gautier and his visit to the Ringling operation, he went alone into a corral that contained a group of elephants. He must have known or trained at least a few of them. In any case, the elephants knocked him down and stepped on him repeatedly. Gautier died of internal injuries. The circus implied that this was an unfortunate accident, but they kept mum on the specific details. Twelve years later, another longtime Barnum trainer paid a visit to the facility, and the elephants stomped him too. He, however, would survive.