An Internet video of the death of a circus elephant in the Narva River last week suggested that the handler may have helped trigger a chain of events that led to the animal's drowning.
With Narva castle in the background, the video shows that the elephant had waded into shallow water on a warm early summer day.
It was not clear to a layman whether the animal was behaving erratically already from the start. The animal lay down, submerged its head several times and, while standing, swung its trunk and splashed water, which struck onlookers as consistent with typical elephant behavior.
The critical point was from 2:10 in the video, when a handler approached the elephant from behind just as the elephant momentarily lost its footing - or again prepared to immerse itself more completely.
The handler climbed onto the elephant's back as a small group of people in the background clapped and laughed; at one point the word "bravo" is heard. At 2:23 the elephant fell on its side, and from that point on got into greater distress and gradually drifted into deeper water.
At no point was the animal's head held forcibly under water, and later, when it is already clear that the submerged animal's movements are slowing, the trainer is seen holding its trunk above water.
But it is unclear from the video why the trainer continued to attempt to stand up and balance himself on the elephant even after the animal was unable to re-right itself and then stood by as the animal slid into unconsciousness.
Aleksandr Semjonov, a veterinarian who examined the animal earlier this week, said that the animal died due to heart failure and that there was not any evidence to confirm mistreatment.
Animal rights activists had alleged in the past that the same elephant had been mistreated, holding demonstrations at the Tsirkuse Tuur recently in Lasnamäe.
On Friday afternoon, uudised.err.ee reported that the East Police Prefecture fined a 61-year-old animal tamer 400 euros for mistreatment but declined to start a criminal investigation regarding the case.
The circus is operated by impresario Lauri Viikna.