Killed keeper uneasy about captive animals
Thu, 26 Apr 2012 11:42a.m.
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.
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27/04/2012 6:56:16 p.m.
It would be great if we could funraise and send her over to US im willing to put my hand up to help!!!
27/04/2012 12:20:46 p.m.
i think te elephant should NOT be put down because they are loving,caring animals who need TLC geez man goshness
27/04/2012 1:31:30 a.m.
Polly Dee wrote:
Elephaants are lovely animals, very caring.Something must have freaked her out to do what she did.we don't want Helens death to be in vain so let's all hope her legacy lives on and Mila is rehomed in a sanctaury that Helen was hoping to do. God bless Helen for all her good work.Mr Radcliffe you should be ashamed of how things have turned out . I think you should try being chained in your room for most of your lie. Low Life
26/04/2012 10:39:50 p.m.
@DOC - it is clear from video images of the elephant when with the circus that it had mental health problems then. If you understood animals you would know that rocking side to side is a sign of high stress. In horses, this is known as weaving, and is considered a vice. It originates when horses (or elephants) are stabled for long periods without any intellectual stimulation. They have to create their own sensory stimulation. This is just one example of Mila's exhibition of the trauma she experienced in the circus. The circus handler was not allowed near the elephant because despite his obvious attachment to Mila, she became agitated when he was around and this set back her rehabilitation.
26/04/2012 5:53:55 p.m.
The anti-circus campaigners claims that the elephant was 'damaged' - i.e. psychologically traumatised - by its 28 years there - is specious nonsense. Elephants are highly intelligent animals - at least as smart as any of the great apes - and if it had been 'damaged' as claimed, it would have exhibited those symptoms long before the animal was 'retired' to the zoo. Depending on how the elephant was obtained by the circus - many are born in captivity and very, very few are wild elephants who are subsequently 'domesticated' and trained to peform. Any handler of experience will tell you that elephants born or growing up in captivity are far more used to humans and readily trained. All say that you can't make an elephant do anything it doesn't want to! Separation from your 'family' and something you had been used to for 28 years would make anyone anxious - not just an elephant! The animal had been showing signs of distress at times (like trumpeting when there was blasting at a nearby quarry!!!) Regardless of your knowledge of the animal (and it of you) - you'd be silly to be in the enclosure with it in that state - a huge animal like that would not mean to hurt you deliberately but if panicked, given its size, anything could happen. It sounds like the well-meaning Ms Schofield make a mistake in handling the poor animal. The question should be asked why the animal's handler for 28 years was not allowed to see her and as importantly, his sound advice based on his unique experience ignored.
26/04/2012 2:48:35 p.m.
Helen was right, and after the traumatic life of the elephant, Mila should have been left in peace to live out the rest of her life.
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