Zookeeper crushed by elephant farewelled

NICOLA RUSSELL
Last updated 16:55 03/05/2012
helen schofield
Takumi Woodward
TRAGIC: Helen Schofield was killed by Mila at Franklin Zoo when the elephant picked her up with her trunk.

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The zookeeper crushed to death by an elephant last week was described as a "hero" who had dedicated her life to saving animals at her funeral in Tuakau today.

Dr Helen Schofield was killed by Mila at Franklin Zoo and Wildlife Sanctuary, south of Auckland, last Wednesday when the elephant picked her up with its trunk before bringing her down and crushing her.

The 42-year-old had been preparing the ex-circus elephant, formerly known as Jumbo, to be transported to the Performing Animal Welfare Society in San Andreas in the United States - something that is still hoped to happen.

The Zoo and SPCA are trying to raise money to send Mila to the sanctuary which could cost as much as $500,000.

Donation boxes lined the Tuakau hall's foyer today.

Speakers at the service, which included her husband Tom, sister Jenny, friends and colleagues, reflected on her tragic passing but also celebrated her life.

From age 10, Schofield volunteered at the local SPCA and zoo and when she thought an animal in her neighbourhood was being mistreated she would leave notes in owners' letterboxes, signed "from the SPCA".

Schofield's family described her inseparable relationship with the family dog who she would give most of her bed to, her pet rats and a household always filled with "limping and injured animals".

On drives through the country, Schofield's sister Jenny, said they'd have to stop the car if Schofield spotted a sheep that looked worse for wear.

She said she was baffled  at how Schofield could tell a sick sheep from the rest of the flock.

Schofield's best friend spoke of their childhood riding horses and of a friend who loved her family so much she would travel continents to be with them if they were in need. Schofield loved animals, she said, but her love was also of people, who she would always find time for.

The vet who trained Schofield, sent a letter which was read by his wife, which spoke of his admiration for her skills, enthusiasm and love for animals.

He said he had known Mila the elephant since its early circus days and Schofield sent him regular updates on her. 

Just days before her death Schofield had contacted him, excited about Mila's progress. He said only Schofield could send an email so excited about things like the hair on an elephant's tail.

A student of Schofield's from Unitec, who worked with her at the sanctuary spoke on behalf of all her students.

She said Schofield had inspired them to continue working with animals and shared stories of the many animals Schofield had rescued and helped thrive, and the trust the animals had for her.

The slideshow of images played at the conclusion of the service, showed Schofield with an array of animals, including  Mila.

"To know Helen was to love her," was repeated throughout the service.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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