Elephant Who Killed Keeper Was Also a Victim

For 28 years, Mila the circus elephant was called Jumbo and traveled with New Zealand’s Weber Bros Circus. When her performance days ended, she went to live at the Franklin Zoo and Wildlife Sanctuary south of Auckland. On April 25th this year, she fatally crushed her keeper, veterinarian and zoo owner Dr. Helen Schofield.

Two years earlier, Dr. Schofield had been optimistic. The elephant was responding well to her new environment and would one day be able to integrate with other African elephants in a California sanctuary. Schofield said of her:

It is a tremendous privilege to take care of Jumbo (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. 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.

On the day she was killed, Dr. Schofield had gone back into Mila’s enclosure to calm her after the shock of brushing her trunk against an electric fence. The elephant charged. Dr. Schofield ran but tripped before she reached the exit. Mila wrapped the vet in her trunk and crushed her.

The elephant’s former owner, Tony Ratcliffe, claims the problems began when the Loritz Circus bought her and then:

…dumped her on the SPCA who held her standing in her own faeces, urine and hay for three days until they called me to help. I got that situation resurrected and took her to the zoo that didn’t want me. Then they rang and said we need your help to get her out of the trailer. Now I have offered help again – they’ve got no handler that can get her out and do anything with her – I don’t even know if I can do anything with her because they have been messing with her.

Auckland SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge called the death “a tragic accident” and said he did not believe it was a deliberate attack. SAFE (Save Animals from Exploitation) director Hans Kriek had been working with the zoo to find another home for Mila. He hopes she will still be sent to the California sanctuary and said:

The ideal outcome is that Mila live the rest of her life with other elephants, to enable her to fully rehabilitate. Thatís the key thing with elephants, they need to live with other elephants because they are such social animals.

While the investigation is underway, no one can say what Mila’s fate will be, though there is a possibility she will be put down. A report in the Sydney Morning Herald says she often suffered panic attacks at night, and Dr. Schofield would comfort her.

The 39-year-old elephant spent 28 years traveling in cramped trailers, performing for audiences that probably gave little thought to her welfare in or out of the ring. Since 2009, she has lived a solitary life at the sanctuary. Her history may make it impossible for her to find peace. And nothing will bring back the woman who was trying to prepare Mila to finally enjoy life in the company of other elephants.

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Photo of baby circus elephant in training from Wikimedia Commons; photo of African elephant from alex.coles via Flickr Creative Commons


W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

William C
William Cabout a year ago


Nickihermes Celine
Past Member 4 years ago

very sad,thank you for sharing

Kamryn M.
Kay M5 years ago


Robert Petrozzi
Robert Petrozzi5 years ago

animals need their freedom in their natural habitat!
How would a human feel locked in a cage or restricted alien space as in a zoo?

N Towle
Nan Towle5 years ago

None of these majestic, sentient wild beings belong in circuses, zoos, water parks, or forced to live their lives entertaining people. Elephants are very social, family oriented emotional beings They do belong in their natural environment their homes with their families and friends where they are happiest. No different than us.

The treatment of elephants and other wild animals in captivity ranges in varying degrees of neglect, mistreatment, poor diet, improper medical treatment, loneliness to egregious cruelty, abuse, suffering, misery and downright torture. The irony that treated this way for our "entertainment" does not go unnoticed. It is grotesque, barbaric and indefensible.

Helping an injured animal or one that cannot survive on its own at a dedicated sanctuary may possibly be a best case scenario in certain circumstances, but circuses using animals, zoos, water parks, etc., are anything but that. Every living being has a breaking point. I am sorry for the loss of veterinarian Dr. Helen Schofield.

mark g.
mark gillono5 years ago




mark g.
mark gillono5 years ago

"instead of funnelling money into zoos, money should be redirected to wild animal conservation. For example the money could be better spent:
-Establishing protected reserves
-Funding anti-poaching patrols
-Educating people about wildlife and the need for conservation
-Lobbying for legislation to protect wildlife (from poachers and habitat destruction)

If you visit zoos you are contributing to this suffering. Today's wildlife programmes can give viewers a much greater understanding and appreciation of these animals than zoos ever could. If you truly care about animals and conservation turn on the T.V and make a donation to one of the many wildlife charities working to save animals in the wild."


Diane L.
Diane L5 years ago

Gianna, that's just flat out silly to state. ALL exotics and ALL wild animals in captivity have been abused? I think maybe you've been reading far too many pieces of propaganda from PETA. Why not visit one of the better zoos and check the work they do to make sure endangered species do NOT become extinct? Check out the habitats and conditions before making such a broad and unfactual remark.

Angie W.
Angie W.5 years ago

It is the circus owner and trainers who should be killed off. They were the ones that took her from her proper environment and forced her to do stupid tricks for uncaring Humans, and imprisoned her in appalling conditions.With any luck they will have short miserable lonely lives. This elephant should be with her own kind NOW. She probably hates humans .I don't blame her.I hate circus people who use animals, and humans who abuse other animals by eating them. The Human species is rotten to the core.The sooner it becomes extinct ,the better.