Dr Schofield was hoping Mila would one day live with other elephants. (Franklin Zoo)
By New Zealand correspondent Dominique Schwartz
Posted April 26, 2012
An animal welfare group in New Zealand says a zookeeper killed yesterday by a former circus elephant had an excellent relationship with the animal.
Police say the death at Franklin Zoo, south of Auckland, was an accident and not an attack - a claim which has been questioned by the 39-year-old elephant's former handler of 30 years.
Early police reports indicate zookeeper Dr Helen Schofield had been trying to calm Mila, formerly known as Jumbo, when the African elephant took her in its trunk and crushed her.
Franklin Zoo was set up to rehabilitate animals and Dr Schofield was hoping to socialise the former circus animal so it could one day live with other elephants.
She had described the three-tonne elephant as "troubled", but said its mental and physical health were improving.
Bob Kerridge, the head of animal welfare group SPCA, helped negotiate Mila's placement at the zoo.
He says Dr Schofield was an experienced veterinarian and animal handler.
"She certainly had a great rapport with Mila," he said.
He says the elephant seemed healthy and well looked-after, but that claim has been called into question by Mila's former handler, Tony Ratcliffe.
He says the elephant had posed no problems during three decades with the circus but had not been handled properly at the zoo.
There is no decision yet on the fate of the elephant.