I've been seeing various versions of this floating around...

I've been seeing various versions of this floating around...

Date: Wed, 15 Jul 1998 12:11:27 -0500

Jumbo Jettisoned

Claim: A zookeeper in Paderborn, Germany was killed by an elephant defecating onto him.

Status: False.

Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1998]

PADERBORN, GERMANY - Overzealous zookeeper Friedrich Riesfeldt fed his constipated elephant Stefan 22 doses of animal laxative and more than a bushel of berries, figs and prunes before the plugged-up pachyderm finally let fly -- and suffocated the keeper under 200 pounds of poop!

Investigators say ill-fated Friedrich, 46, was attempting to give the ailing elephant an olive-oil enema when the relieved beast unloaded on him like a dump truck full of mud.

"The sheer force of the elephant's unexpected defecation knocked Mr. Riesfeldt to the ground, where he struck his head on a rock and lay unconscious as the elephant continued to evacuate his bowels on top of him," said flabbergasted Paderborn police detective Erik Dern.

"With no one there to help him, he lay under all that dung for at least an hour before a watchman came along, and during that time he suffocated.

"It seems to be just one of those freak accidents that happen sometimes -- a billion-to-one shot, at least."

The heartbreaking tale of constipation and tragedy began April 23 when the conscientious zookeeper noticed that his prize, 8,000-pound African elephant didn't seem to be producing his usual poop aplenty.

"Friedrich had actually been concerned for several days because he knew that severe constipation can kill an elephant," assistant zookeeper Kurt Herrman recalled.

"He told me he was going to stay late that Thursday night to treat Stefan with laxatives and possibly give him an enema.

"I offered to help, but he sent me on home, saying he had everything under control."

But two hours later, horrified night watchman Walter Pleuger found Friedrich lying lifeless under a mound of muck, his body visible only from the knees down.

"I had never really thought about it before," Det. Dern said. "But obviously, giving an elephant an enema can be a very dangerous activity -- and not something that should be attempted alone."

Origins: This entertaining "news item" appeared in the Weekly World News, a publication not known for its overly high journalistic standards. Stories invented of whole cloth have previously appeared in its pages, and this latest pachyderm tale is but another of that ilk.

Photo or not, the story is a fake. There is no zoo in Paderborn, Germany, and a check of that town's phone book fails to reveal listings for either the victim Riesfeldt or detective Erik Dern. Moreover, no reputable news agency carried the story of the unfortunate Friedrich Riesfeldt's demise.

Even without knowing there's no zoo in Paderborn, this story should leap off the page as something that has to be untrue. The key fact this tale swings on is Riesfeldt's foolhardy yet somewhat successful single-handed attempt to irrigate Stefan's posterior. No creature willingly submits to an enema. A lone zookeeper attempting to administer one to an elephant wouldn't get very far; the animal would easily brush him aside.

The photograph supplied by the Weekly World News is clearly a fake. The posture of the elephant makes one think of a circus animal with the stand it was posed on airbrushed out, but more telling is the lack of enema implements in the shot. If Riesfeldt had truly been overcome by a sudden dam burst of excretia, then where are the tools he was using? Where's the tubing and the source of water?

Another look at the photo confirms this shot was taken either during daylight hours or in a well-lit circus tent, certainly not out in a field after sunset. Going back to the Weekly World News story, Riesfeldt's body was discovered by the night watchman two hours after the fateful final conversation with another co-worker in which Riesfeldt announced he was staying late to irrigate the elephant. I am reliably informed elephants do not cast shadows at night.


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May 04, 2004