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Killed keeper uneasy about captive animals

11:13 Thu Apr 26 2012
AAP
Mila, an African elephant formerly known as Jumbo, moved to Franklin Zoo in 2009
Mila, an African elephant formerly known as Jumbo, moved to Franklin Zoo in 2009
Franklin zoo owner and director Helen Schofield
Franklin zoo owner and director Helen Schofield

A keeper killed by a former circus elephant at a zoo south of Auckland was extremely uncomfortable about keeping animals in captivity.

"It's quite surprising ending up running a zoo because I still feel discomfort," Helen Schofield told Radio New Zealand's Spectrum programme in 2010.

But the zoo had a role in providing a transition from captivity to a new home for the exotic animals, she said.

Ms Schofield was crushed by the female African elephant, Mila previously known as Jumbo, at the Franklin Zoo and Wildlife Centre in Tuakau on Wednesday.

She is believed to have been trying to calm the elephant after it became upset.

Ms Schofield had spent the last two years caring for the elephant and working to get her into healthy state so she could be moved to a sanctuary with other elephants.

Police said Ms Schofield's death was the result of a tragic accident but the elephant's former owner and handler told Radio New Zealand he believed Ms Schofield was attacked because she did not know how to properly handle the animal.

Tony Ratcliffe cared for the elephant for 28 years as part of his circus and gave her up in 2008.

Auckland SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge said Ms Schofield was a very passionate vet who had a "great rapport" with the elephant.

The SPCA had checked on the animal six months ago and its inspectors reported she seemed healthy and well looked after.

Mr Kerridge told Fairfax Media there were now three options: sending the elephant to a sanctuary, which was expensive but the ideal option; someone replacing Ms Schofield at the zoo and continuing to care for the elephant; or the "worst option" of putting down the elephant.

A decision would be made by the zoo and the SPCA with input from specialists.

The Department of Labour is investigating.