Axel GautierElephant trainerGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Axel Gautier,...


Axel Gautier

Elephant trainer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Axel Gautier, 51, a leading trainer of elephants who had been a performer with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for 35 years, died Wednesday in Shands Hospital at the University of Florida.

One of the elephants with which he was working at the Ringling Elephant Farm in Wiliston, Fla., knocked him down and stepped on him, said Rodney Huey, a Ringling spokesman.

Long a featured performer and senior elephant trainer with Ringling, he had been appearing with the Blue Unit, one of the show's two traveling circuses, in Asheville, N.C., and in Baltimore and Washington last month.

He was making a brief visit to the Elephant Farm, where Ringling operates its elephant conservation and breeding program with a herd of 20 elephants.

Mr. Gautier's sons, Michael, 28, and Kevin, 23, had both been appearing in the show with their father and 18 elephants, and they performed after the accident on Wednesday night.

Born in 1942 in Breslau, Germany, which is now a part of Poland, he was descended from six generations of circus performers. His ancestors founded the Didier Gautier circus in France.

He joined the Greatest Show on Earth at the age of 15, worked as an apprentice with the elephant trainer Hugo Schmitt, and inherited the act when Schmitt retired in 1970.

Mr. Gautier, largely by voice command, trained elephants to stand on their heads, walk sidewards and lift circus performers

with their trunks and their mouths.

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