UPDATE: On behalf of everyone at the Performing Animal Welfare Society, I extend our deepest sympathy to the staff of the Franklin Zoo, the community, and friends and family on the tragic loss of Dr. Helen Schofield.
Elephants are magnificent and complex animals, so one can only speculate as to the emotional state of Mila at the time of this terrible accident. However, Dr. Schofield's commitment to the care and well-being of Mila was clearly evident in her work with her and was indeed inspirational.
Helen Schofield will be remembered with the highest regard by elephant care-giver professionals around the world.
Pat Derby -- PAWS co-founder and President
Helen Schofield, the owner of New Zealand's Franklin Zoo died yesterday when an elephant crushed her to death. The zoo owner had been attempting to get the elephant into an animal sanctuary in California.
Schofield had taken care of Mila the elephant (formerly known as Jumbo while in the circus) for four years at the Franklin Zoo. During her time with Mila, Schofield had been working with Mila to help the elephant have other African elephants for company in the future.
"Not only has she learnt to work with more than one keeper, she has also developed more physical fitness and confidence," Schofield had said in May 2010 of Mila. "She has perfected her mud wallowing and sand bathing techniques, not to mention her ability to knock down pretend trees (telegraph poles), blow water and other natural elephant behaviors. All these activities will help her in the future"
Schofield's death comes as a devastating shock to those who knew her. According to Bob Kerridge, the president of Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Schofield was reportedly crushed when the elephant picked her up in its trunk, lifting her off the ground. Kerridge believes that the elephant could have been startled, and in reality "may have been trying to defend Schofield when she died."
Since Schofield's death the nearby Auckland Zoo has stepped in to help care for Mila reported the Associated Press.
The Franklin Zoo released a statement on their website stating, "Helen's family & the team at Franklin Zoo sincerely thank everyone for their messages of support and love. Helen was incredibly passionate about the welfare of animals, and your sentiments are a reflection of how giving and selfless she was."
While Schofield's death is horrible, it has also helped open eyes to Mila's exploitation in the circus. Executive director of Save Animals from Exploitation said that Mila was psychologically damaged from the years she had spent while travelling with the circus. According to the Associated Press, for years Mila was shackled and confined to small spaces. Kriek had petitioned for her release for over 20 years, and upon Mila's move to Franklin Zoo she had gained weight and "seemed to be in better spirits."
"It is a tremendous privilege to take care of Mila, I feel personally humbled and flattered by the big ear flapping purrs she gives me as a greeting when I return to see her from other activities in the sanctuary," said Schofield in 2010. "She is so affectionate and responsive. It will be a joyful day to see her develop friends of the elephant kind in the future. This is a short way off now."
Mila was scheduled to move to the Performing Animal Welfare Society in California. The Performing Animal Welfare Society was contacted, but has not responded on whether the elephant will still make the move.