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Jacksonville Zoo Explains Safety Procedures Following Escape Of Michael Jackson’s Elephant

Ali the elephant, previously owned by singer Michael Jackson, escaped his enclosure at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens on Sunday.

Staff acted according to the “code red” protocol they are taught in periodic emergency-scenario training sessions.

Deputy Director Dan Maloney said the Zoo is lucky that the 11,000 pound elephant  is a good natured, smart animal.

“Elephants are animals that listen to commands. They understand English and are usually highly trained,” said Maloney.

Credit Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
Ali, the African Bull Elephant who escaped his enclosure to retrieve leaves from a usually unreachable tree, after a zoo-keeper forgot to close the gate.

Maloney said after Ali made it only 20 yards outside of his sanctuary, trainers were able to coax him back inside with treats.

Trainings vary to deal with different situations. But they all involve trainers taking on the roles of animals.

To simulate a tiger escape, an employee will dress in a mascot suit and a trainer will chase them through obstacles that a real tiger would encounter.

Maloney mentioned the next training will probably involve a venomous snake simulation.

The snake training will involve staff members acting like they were bitten by one of the poisonous animals on property and a trainer coming to their aid.

Maloney commended his team of animal-lovers who he said stays on top of drills required to maintain the zoo’s accreditation with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

He said this not only involves safety procedures but also animal welfare, education and conservation involvement.

Credit Alexandra Blackwell
Another African Bull Elephant at the zoo named Thandi, raised her trunk and spoke on command.

The trainers learn about the animals and develop relationships with them. Ali trusts his trainers to take care of a tooth problem he has on a daily basis.

Not only are trainers and zoo-keepers involved with training but other staff members take on a big responsibility too.

“We involve our facility staff and our guest relations staff because they’re the ones that are going to deal with moving our guests around and getting them to safe areas,” said Maloney.

Maloney said even though these emergencies are extremely rare, it’s important to be prepared.

The last instance of escape that Maloney remembered was also by Ali.

Maloney and his team are continuing discussions about how the situation would have differed if Ali was not so nice and how they plan to handle cases like this in the future.

Ali came to the Zoo in 1997 from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. He is estimated to be 28-years-old.

Alexandra Blackwell can be reached at or 904-358-6316.