Zookeeper blamed for own death
Thu, 26 Apr 2012 8:28a.m.
A female zookeeper was killed by a former circus elephant on Wednesday because she did not know what she was doing, the elephant's former handler says.
The keeper, the zoo's owner and director Helen Schofield, had lost her life through "ignorance of the elephant and its capabilities", Tony Ratcliffe told Radio New Zealand.
He rejected suggestions the elephant, Mila, previously known as Jumbo, was upset and finding it hard to settle into the zoo after 28 years with the circus.
Jumbo had never been a problem when she had been with the circus, he said.
"She has been messed around by people that have no knowledge of (elephants)."
He refused to speculate on what should happen to the elephant.
Hours before she died Ms Schofield told visitors to the Franklin Zoo and Wildlife Sanctuary, south of Auckland, about the elephant's anxiety issues.
Emergency services were called to the zoo about 4:30pm on Wednesday.
Ms Schofield was reported to have been in the enclosure trying to calm the 3.1-tonne elephant when it took fright and crushed her.
Mila came to the zoo from the Weber Bros Circus in 2009.
Ms Schofield said Mila had taken some time to integrate into the zoo, but appeared to be more settled in recent weeks.
The zoo had been hoping to move Mila to an elephant sanctuary in California, but it was now unclear what would happen.
The zoo cares for exotic and native animals being retired or re-homed.
It purchased and retired the last circus lions in New Zealand in 2006, and is home to more than 300 birds and animals.
The Department of Labour is investigating.
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22/06/2012 9:37:36 a.m.
Vanessa Richardson wrote:
I Know Jumbo personally, My granddad used to care for Jumbo before Tony got Jumbo, jumbo was never a violent animal, and i'm sure Tony would not have gotten Jumbo taken off him for neglect Jumbo is getting old and i really hope she is not put down.Jumbo was an amazing elephant never violent..
20/05/2012 3:04:14 p.m.
jason alexander wrote:
crackpots on here - elephants are social animals evolved to be with other elephants - this animal could not have been happy in a circus or in helens sanctuary - and for the former circus keeper to comment is perverse
28/04/2012 5:52:18 p.m.
i dont think it was the elephants fault and it should not be held down that is animal abuse if you dont want the elephant to stay in new zealand just send it to californa it can stay happy and safe DONT KILL the animal it is very mean !
27/04/2012 9:02:12 a.m.
Sheryl Vale wrote:
I sure hope that Mila isn't put down needlessly. They should let the previous owner in on the scene.... he knows the elephant more than anyone and she knows him .... i had seen that elephant at his circus, outside on the grass and she always seemed contented. A horse I owned seemed to have a little habit of rearing, we found out that by a certain command he had been taught that by his previous owner so there could some truth to what Mila's previous owner is saying .... I wish they would listen. What a shame her previous owner didn't have a paddock or two with the right facilities and she be returned to him and have company of some kind with any help that he night need .... He knows her best.
26/04/2012 6:49:41 p.m.
I think it's a bit rude that the previous owner claims that the lady didn't know what she was doing, When the elephant was taken off him for neglect etc.....Looks like he is trying to score points
26/04/2012 5:40:59 p.m.
I personally know jumbo, and i love her very deeply, a very good friend of mine worked with her at the circus, she very very loved by all those who where involved with the circus, this is really a tragedy, and i pray that jumbo isnt put down, shes such a beautiful elephant, im truely am sad
26/04/2012 3:17:59 p.m.
Sounds like the former owner is using this whole sad affair for his own shameless self-promotion. Disgusting. How self-involved he sounds.
26/04/2012 2:43:06 p.m.
So sorry to hear about this sad news...unfortunately an elephant having been confined and chained to a circus vehicle for 30 years then set free at a Zoo and now being trained to get used to going into a crate before being shipped overseas was all too much and could imagine the elephant just had enough - they are very intelligent creatures with very good memories and because of its history should have been left to live the rest of its life out at the Zoo in peace.
26/04/2012 1:33:26 p.m.
I have met Tony and have been fortunate enough to be introduced "hands on" to Jumbo/Mila. She was very well cared for very calm and in my opinion very happy, certainly not exibiting anything close to "emotional scars" or "anxiety". There is not a person in the world who loved an animal more than Tony loved his elephant. It is my understanding that Tony rescued Jumbo and that Jumbo was not able to be put back into the wild. The only real bond Jumbo had with anyone was with Tony. Tony put his elephant first, with failed marriages to prove it. Of course Jumbo would be anxious when hearing truck noises etc, she probably wanted to get back to Tony and to the only life she knew, that of circus life. This is a terrible tragedy and my heart goes out to the family of Helen for their loss, however it is my belief that Jumbo would have had emotional scars at her separation from Tony and the life she knew and was comfortable with. As we all know Elephants are highly intelligent animals and Jumbo would have been confused by her name change, her separation from Tony and her change in lifestyle. Unfortunately her intelligence didn't stretch to an understanding of what was going on and I can imagine that would have made her anxious, confused and emotionally distraught. What happened to Jumbo I could only compare with taking a small child away from its mother. It is a shame that Tony could not have had more contact.
26/04/2012 12:27:17 p.m.
Tony Ratcliffe is an expert in animal training. His animals that were kept within the circus, were always well looked after, and enjoyed performing. Animals enjoy performing. We have been involved in training horses and animals for movies for decades. if the animal isn't interested it will not perform. There are some people who abuse animals, Tony is not nor has ever been one of those people. He would always give advice and show training methods. Any animal that is large always has the risk of hurting a human, be it a sheep even! The fact is was in a circus once is no way related to it killing an inexperienced handler. In no zoo or ark type situation would any animals be handled by amateurs. I feel sympathy for the family of the deceased, but looking at the reported facts, it was a disaster waiting for a moment.
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