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Zookeeper to blame for own death - handler

Thursday 26 Apr 2012 8:30 a.m.

Mila the elephant (Franklinzoo.co.nz)

Mila the elephant (Franklinzoo.co.nz)

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.

NZN

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