Mila the elephant found happiness before her death
The trust which organised the transfer of Mila the elephant to San Diego Zoo is pleased she got to live her final years as her former trainer wanted her to.
The African elephant was 44 when she died in America this week - relatively young for an elephant in captivity.
Mila was an ex-circus elephant who spent her last years in New Zealand under the care of Dr Helen Schofield, director of Franklin Zoo & Wildlife Sanctuary, where her natural elephant behaviours and free choice were encouraged.
In 2012, Mila killed Schofield in the elephant's enclosure.
Schofield's sister Jenny Chung will be forever thankful her sister's dream for Mila came true.
The people of New Zealand and Franklin Zoo raised the funds to send Mila to San Diego Zoo, where she was happily integrated with other retired elephants in 2013.
"I felt like I had been hit by a bus when I got notified of Mila's death," Chung said this week. "It was such a shock because she was doing very well, she was healthy and we presumed that she would live a good 10 or more years.
Chung said the zoo's ageing elephant experts suspect it was a quick onset illness, such as a stroke or a heart attack, that caused Mila's death, but a post mortem will be done.
"But we are also very happy because she had such a good successful integration after living the majority of her life with no other elephants, that the integration was so successful.
"She had three-and-a-half years living with other elephants very happily.
"The elephant team at San Diego Zoo cared for and loved Mila as much as we did. They supported her through her quarantine period and gradually and respectfully integrated her into the herd. Helen would be very grateful that this was such a successful process, and that Mila had this time to be part of a herd and display natural elephant behaviours."
Schofield before her death was looking at places to send Mila. After she died, the trust formed and hired an elephant expert who sought out the best possible place for Mila to live.
"San Diego Zoo has an aged elephant facility specifically set up for elephants with similar backgrounds to Mila and it's a non-reproducing herd, they are all on equal footing," Chung said. "They agreed to take her and look after her for the rest of her life."
Chung and those involved with her move were regularly updated by the zoo on Mila's progress, including receiving a video of her first swim.
Mila instantly took a shine the matriarch of the herd - an Asian elephant named Mary, whom she became really fond of.
Chung has fond memories of Mila's progress, most of all seeing her develop her natural behaviours.
"Like fling mud everywhere, break logs, peel the bark off logs, just learning to do all the things that elephants do."
Trust member Jan Clark was glad she got to see Mila make contact with her first elephant in 34 years when she met Mary.
"It was amazing to see how strong a friendship they made. It was a sense of: We did it! We all did it!"
Mila was the first lone elephant that San Diego Zoo had integrated.
The trust rehomed all 420 animals from the Franklin Zoo & Wildlife Sanctuary after Schofield's death.
- Waikato Times