Taipei Zoo elephant gets following with slick flick of a hat

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(CNA photo)

(CNA photo)

Taipei, Aug. 6 (CNA) An elephant at Taipei Zoo pleasantly surprised zoo visitors last week by tossing back a hat that flew into its enclosure, but the zoo said Tuesday that the spectators were lucky because close interaction with elephants can be dangerous.

When the bucket hat worn by a mother visiting the zoo with her children was blown into the elephant enclosure, a female African elephant approached the object and grabbed it with its trunk.

As the children yelled "give it back" and "throw it," the elephant complied and flicked it back to them, according to a video posted on Facebook on July 31.

Identifying the elephant as 37-year-old Chien Hui (千惠), Taipei Zoo spokesman Eric Tsao (曹先紹) said Monday that elephants are intelligent and sensitive creatures, and Chien Hui is quite familiar with human voices because it often interacts with zookeepers.

But even zookeepers have to stay out of the reach of an elephant's trunk because close encounters can be risky, Tsao said.

Years ago, some Taipei Zoo visitors threw things into the elephant enclosure to grab the attention of late male elephant Lan Po (藍波), who died in 2011, but Lan Po reacted angrily and threw stones and urinated at them, Tsao said.

The visitors who got their hat back should consider themselves "incredibly lucky" because no harm was done, the spokesperson said.

African elephants are the world's largest and heaviest land animals, standing up to four meters tall at the shoulder and weighing 4,000 to 7,000 kilograms.

The species is threatened by habitat destruction and poaching for ivory.