A zookeeper at the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Mo., was killed Friday when a 6,000-pound elephant trampled him to death.

ABC News reported that 62-year-old John Bradford, who had worked at the zoo for 30 years, and other zoo staff members were working with one of the park’s elephants, a 41-year-old female named Patience. They were trying to maneuver the elephant from its stall into a narrow chute leading to the yard, when the elephant suddenly charged. Bradford was knocked to the ground inside the chute, and the 3-ton elephant then pinned him against the floor.

The zookeeper was killed instantly.

“This is a very sad day for the zoo family, as well as our community as a whole,” Mike Crocker, the director of the Dickerson Park Zoo, said in a statement.

Bradford’s co-workers told reporters how much the longtime zookeeper cared for the animals he watched over. “[Bradford] had a great deal of respect and love for them and cared about the conservation,” Paul Price, a friend of Bradford’s, told the Springfield News-Leader. “He was always aware of dangers and everything and was instrumental in developing the elephant management program at the zoo at the national and international levels.”

Elephants are the largest of all land animals. While not typically aggressive creatures, elephants pose a danger to their handlers because of their size. One zookeeper told ABC News that elephants are responsible for more injuries in zoos than any other animal.

“I’ve heard people describe them as being teenagers for life,” one Dickerson employee, Lee Hart, told the public-radio station KSMU last year, according to NBC News. “They’re always trying to see how much they can be mischievous, and, due to the large size, it makes them extremely dangerous just for that aspect.” Hart added: “But if you put yourself in a bad spot in the barn or in the yard, you just potentially, you know, put yourself in harm’s way.”

According to NBC, Patience, the elephant that killed Bradford, had a history of acting up.

“We honor the memory of our friend John. And, we are grateful for the kind words of support from you, our many zoo friends,” the Dickerson Park Zoo wrote in a photo caption on its Facebook page.

The zoo also put this update on its Facebook page: “In response to multiple questions: Dickerson Park Zoo has no plans for disciplinary actions or euthanasia of the elephant following this morning’s accident. We do appreciate your kind words and prayers.”