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Zoo killed in New Zealand by elephant warned of animal's 'anxiety'


"Cuddles," a female African Elephant, waits to have her nails filed at Taronga Western Plains Zoo on April 20, 2012 in Dubbo, Australia.


Mark Kolbe

A New Zealand zookeeper killed by an African elephant in her care had reportedly warned of the elephant's anxiety issues just hours before her death.

Zookeeper Helen Schofield was killed by Mila, a 39-year-old former circus performer, on Wednesday at Franklin Zoo and Wildlife Sanctuary south of Auckland, which Schofield owned and where she lived.

The zoo cares for exotic and native animals being retired or re-located.

According to Sky News, Schofield was in an enclosure trying to calm the 3.1-tonne elephant when it took fright and crushed her with its trunk. 

Just two and a half hours earlier, Schofield told a group visiting the zoo that the elephant suffered frequent panic attacks, the Fairfax media reported.

Schofield said Mila, who spent 28 years with Weber Bros Circus and was once called Jumbo, had taken some time to integrate into the zoo, but appeared to be more settled in recent weeks.

However, Schofield had hoped to soon place Mila in a sanctuary in California and had recently trained it to prepare for a long trip in a crate, the Associated Press reported.

She had previously described the elephant as "troubled," but said its mental and physical health were improving, according to Australia's ABC.

Questions have been raised about Schofield's handling of the elephant by Mila's former handler, Tony Ratcliffe.

Ratcliffe was reportedly outside the zoo Wednesday night demanding to see the elephant.

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He told reporters that he would know if it was "a deliberate elephant attack or not" as soon as he saw Mila.

"Elephants choose their friends and when they attack, they attack ... I'm just gutted. A lady has lost her life, it is a tragedy."

However, the head of animal welfare group SPCA, which helped negotiate Mila's placement at the zoo, disputed the claim.

"She certainly had a great rapport with Mila," Bob Kerridge said of Schofield.

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