The passing of Mila the elephant can only be described as an end of an era for Franklin Zoo and Wildlife Sanctuary, and the legacy Dr Helen Schofield left behind.
In 2010, Mila, formerly known as ‘Jumbo’, was taken in by Dr Helen Schofield after living the life of a circus elephant. Those who knew Dr Helen Schofield could only describe her as a selfless and inspirational woman. She dedicated her life to protecting and providing a safe haven for the animals that resided at the former Franklin Zoo and Wildlife Sanctuary, originally located on Whangarata Road, Tuakau.
Helen was a highly qualified and accredited veterinarian, she was also the zoo’s operator and keeper, seven days a week, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. She was an animal welfare advocate, a conservationist, a licenced MAF operator and much more.
Franklin Zoo and Wildlife Sanctuary was a non-profit organisation. It was originally established as Whangarata Zoo by the Gaskell family, before it was purchased by Mark Vette in 2003, who owned it for three years before selling it on to Dr Schofield. Over 420 animals used to reside there, including bobcats, zebras, and a huge range of different breeds of monkeys. It solely relied on donations, visitors, and the veterinarian work that Helen provided in and outside of New Zealand.
This ANZAC Day marks the fifth anniversary of the tragic and accidental death of Dr Schofield, who was killed by Mila. She entered her enclosure ‘to try and calm the elephant’ after it was thought that it had received an electric shock, as suggested by the coroner.
It was Dr Schofield’s dream to see Mila become a healthy and happy elephant, and to eventually live the rest of her life in the United States with other African elephants.
After years of dedication, fundraising and hard work, Dr Schofield’s sister, Jenny Chung, the volunteers and staff at the sanctuary, and the team behind the Franklin Zoo Charitable Trust made Helen’s dream become a reality, and in 2014, Mila was relocated to San Diego Zoo.
It was believed that Mila was ‘thriving in her new environment,’ which allowed her to form close bonds with her herd. Her death was unexpected, and an autopsy is yet to be performed to determine the cause.