Joaquin Gutierrez Arnaiz, aged 44, was hit by a 4,000-kilogram (4.4-ton) female African elephant in Cabarceno Natural Park in Cantabria, northern Spain, on Wednesday.
Guttierez Arnaiz was rushed to the Marques de Valdecilla University Hospital, where he died from his injuries.
At the time of the accident, staff were cleaning the elephants’ compound.
Local police, the Civil Guard and the zoo are investigating the incident.
Francisco Javier Lopez Marcano, Cantabria’s Tourism Minister, said in a statement to Spanish media that the elephant that struck Guttierez Arnaiz had a foot infection and was probably pregnant.
The keeper was in the outdoor patio area, washing down the surfaces and monitoring how the animal’s foot was healing. The elephant was with her calf at the time.
“We are talking about highly unpredictable animals,” Lopez Marcano said, adding: “The force of the strike was tremendous, on a scale that none of us could survive.”
He blamed the events on a lack of caution. “From the outset it’s an accident that has been caused by someone who, following their daily routine, was too trusting at a fatal moment,” he said.
“That is the only reason that perhaps in certain circumstances a tragedy like this can occur,” Lopez Marcano added.
According to Cantabria’s regional government, this is the first fatal accident in the zoo’s 30-year history.