26 Apr 2012

Keeper crushed by elephant

7:24 am on 26 April 2012

A zookeeper has been crushed by an elephant while trying to calm the animal in its enclosure.

Helen Schofield died on Wednesday at the Franklin Zoo and Wildlife Sanctuary near the town of Tuakau, 56km south of Auckland.

She was trying to calm the female African elephant, named Jumbo or Mila, after it became agitated.

Emergency services were called about 4.30pm after the elephant lifted Ms Schofield in its trunk and crushed her by mistake, police said. Dr Schofield died about 30 minutes later, despite the efforts of medical staff.

Jumbo has lived at the zoo since late 2009 and was the subject of a campaign by animal rights activists to free her from a circus.

Zoo workers tried to calm the elephant with the help of staff from Auckland Zoo on Wednesday night.

The elephant's former handler also arrived at the zoo, but said he was denied access to the animal.

Tony Ratcliffe looked after Jumbo for 30 years as part of his circus, but gave her up in 2008. He said he is the only African elephant handler in Australasia and wanted to help.

"I would know exactly if she's going to have a go at anyone else ... This is an accident that was predicted and didn't need to happen."

Business partner and brother Robin Ratcliffe, who accompanied him to the zoo, said the elephant is kind-natured and should not be put down because of the incident.

The zoo is not commenting on the accident and the body was removed from the scene on Wednesday night.

The death is being investigated by Coroner Sue Johnson and the Department of Labour.