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Reindeer Trouble at a Zoo

Fighting with the reindeer stag (source: Youtube)What would you do in a really tough situation? Daily routine can be learnt easily, making us believe that we are experienced. However, it is put to the test in crisis situations, when we make either right or wrong decisions. Many of us might behave as inexperienced greenhorns even after several years, which can easily lead to tragedy. What can be done to prevent it? We have to be mentally prepared for it, and it is useful to analyse both positive and negative examples. One of the best known cases is the one on this video, which has been published on video sharing sites. The incident happened in the famous and recognised Antwerp Zoo (Belgium) in 2010. Visitors filmed the dramatic events unfolding in the enclosure of the reindeer. It was a scandal back then; extremist animal protection organisations naturally accused the zoo of animal abuse. Their interpretation was incorrect, since it was not a consequence of any systematic cruelty; it was merely the result of bad decisions made by zookeepers in a crisis.

I have to admit that I know little about the background, but the video contains enough information in itself. There was a group of reindeer including a strong male (as far as I know his name was Jolf). It is a well known fact that the stags can be dangerous, especially during the mating season, when they are prone to aggressive behaviour. Women are at an increased risk, not only because they are usually less strong physically, but their hormones (especially during menstruation) can influence the behaviour of ungulates. There is no reason to work alone in there. In addition, as I can see, the keeper was not cautious; she didn’t realise that the deer was following her since she wasn’t looking at the animals while pulling the bin. So she was totally surprised when the reindeer attacked her at the gate. There is a cut, so we don’t know why she did not simply escape with a quick jump; we can only see the following scene. This scene is dramatic enough, the zookeeper fighting for her life far from the exit gate. She asks for help and a very young man arrives with a shovel... he looks like a gardener, also very inexperienced and puzzled. Hitting the stag’s head (and sometimes the woman’s leg) with the shovel is not effective, but makes the visitors (and the viewers of this video) outraged. Finally a zookeeper arrives to help and also joins the fight with the reindeer.
A big question came to my mind: it seemed as if they wanted to defeat the reindeer, not to escape from this situation, why? The woman also began hitting the head of the deer instead. The next question… according to the statement of the zoo, the situation lasted for about 20 minutes. This time should have been enough to gather more workers to help, even to use a tranquilliser gun. Animals usually recognise the advantage in numbers when facing several strong men, but I can see more men only in the final scene. And there is another question, why was the door not closed? If the nervous deer escaped, there would have been even more trouble.

The reindeer was removed from the enclosure, but we have to ask, why? He was not aggressive towards the other deer. His behaviour was not extreme compared to wild ungulates; all he did was protecting his territory against intruders. First, the problem could have been avoided with preventive measures, especially by not letting a zookeeper to work alone in the enclosure. Second, after the problem occurred, the chance of further injuries should have been reduced; people should have left the enclosure in the fastest possible way, instead of fighting.

Many zoo-related people have watched this video, and I hope most of them learned from it. It would be great if zoo staff were trained for crisis situations as well…

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