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Updated at 10:03 pm on 26 April 2012
Authorities are trying to determine who should have the final say over the fate of an elephant that killed its zookeeper.
Helen Schofield was crushed by the former circus elephant Jumbo, later renamed Mila, at the Franklin Zoo and Wildlife Sanctuary in Tuakau on Wednesday.
Dr Schofield had been trying to calm the female African elephant after it became agitated.
Emergency services were called about 4.30pm after the elephant lifted Dr Schofield in its trunk and crushed her by mistake, police said. She died about 30 minutes later, despite the efforts of medical staff.
Auckland Zoo has taken over the temporary running of Franklin Zoo on Thursday and says the elephant is eating, drinking and sleeping as normal.
Legally, the Franklin Zoo owns Mila. But because she is an elephant, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), animal welfare organisation the SPCA and other authorities can overrule any decision that is made regarding her fate.
MAF officials have met with Franklin Zoo staff. The ministry says it will take appropriate statutory actions to ensure the welfare and containment of the animals.
SPCA president Bob Kerridge says overseas experts are being consulted over the coming days about what should happen to Mila.
Peter Stroud, a freelance specialist in captive elephant welfare, helped set up the enclosure at Franklin Zoo. He says he was shocked when he heard that Dr Schofield had been killed.
Mr Stroud says there are safety procedures that mean the keeper and the elephant should have been seperated by a protective screen.
Helen Schofield was passionate about trying to find homes for exotic animals and in 2006 bought and retired the last circus lions in New Zealand.
Three years later, she created a sanctuary at the zoo for Mila and hoped to eventually move the animal to an overseas sanctuary to live with other elephants.
On Thursday, the SPCA has rejected suggestions that the attack occurred because the elephant was badly handled.
Former owner and handler Tony Ratcliffe said he believed Dr Schofield was attacked because she did not know how to properly handle the animal.
Mr Ratcliffe looked after the elephant for 30 years as part of his circus and gave her up in 2008. He told Morning Report on Thursday his offers of help to the zoo have been dismissed, and he was angry the elephant has not been treated well since moving to the wildlife centre.
However, SPCA national president Bob Kerridge said Dr Schofield was an experienced animal handler who had a great relationship with Mila.
The SPCA visited Franklin Zoo and Wildlife Sanctuary six months ago, reporting that the elephant seemed heathy and well looked after.
Animal welfare group Safe NZ executive director Hans Kriek said Dr Schofield had formed a very close bond with the elephant and would often stay with it overnight when it was unsettled.
Copyright © 2012, Radio New Zealand
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