Zookeeper killed in tragic accident

SAFE is extremely saddened by the death of zookeeper and owner of Franklin Zoo Helen Schofield, and is concerned for the future of Mila, the former circus elephant previously named Jumbo. Schofield was the owner and director of Franklin Zoo, and died as a result of an accident involving Mila, who had spent over thirty years in a circus.

SAFE's Executive director, Hans Kriek, spoke to Dr Schofield about Mila the day before her death. He said she had been full of enthusiasm for Mila's future, making plans to send her to live with other elephants in a specialist sanctuary.

SAFE campaigned over many years to get Jumbo away from a life in the circus, kept in solitary confinement in a trailer, often chained and forced to perform.

"When Mila was Jumbo in the circus, she had a stereotypic behaviour, often swaying her head from side to side,'' Mr Kriek said. "Wild ones don't do that. It's a sign they are not coping well with their captivity. It was my understanding that she improved a lot from going to the zoo.''

SAFE understands that Dr Schofield was Mila's sole caregiver, and had been looking for a sanctuary to which Mila could go. She had planned to visit a Californian rehabilitation centre for former circus and zoo animals called Performance Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS, and Mr Kriek says that all efforts possible should be made to honour Helen's wish, in the best interests of Mila.

"Because there are no other African elephants in New Zealand we knew Franklin Zoo was only going to be a temporary solution. Helen was training her to get her ready to accept being in a crate so she could be transported,'' said Mr Kriek.

"The ideal outcome is that Mila live the rest of her life with other elephants, to enable her to fully rehabilitate would happen as soon as possible. That's the key thing with elephants, they need to live with other elephants because they are such social animals. A lot of animals in zoos and circuses kill their handler either by accident or on purpose. It's just another indication that wild animals just don't belong in captivity."

"There will of course need funds for a move to happen and it may be a case that a corporate sponsor or private individual is needed to step forward to make this possible," Mr Kriek said.

26 April 2012