LOS ANGELES (AP) — An African elephant is still welcome at a California sanctuary after killing a zookeeper who was preparing to move the animal from New Zealand, the sanctuary owner said Thursday.
Pat Derby's Performing Animal Welfare Society in San Andreas was going to be home to the 39-year-old elephant now called Mila after being known as Jumbo during nearly 30 years with the circus.
However, its fate is uncertain after Helen Schofield, a veterinarian and owner of Franklin Zoo near Auckland, was crushed to death Wednesday.
"We will have to negotiate with whoever becomes her new owner," Derby said.
For the past four years, Mila has been at the zoo while Schofield worked to place her elsewhere. Derby said she and Schofield had been working on the move for about two years.
Schofield was training Mila to live in a crate during the trip. She exchanged emails with Derby a month ago saying the training was going well and she was feeling good about the move.
"We didn't actually have a date," Derby said. "It was sort of whenever crate training was finished and they felt she was comfortable enough to make the trip."
Hans Kriek, executive director of Save Animals from Exploitation, said he talked to Schofield the day before she died and she told him she believed Mila was ready to ship.
Bob Kerridge, president of the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, called Schofield's death devastating.
"Dr. Schofield's commitment to the care and well-being of Mila was clearly evident in her work with her and was indeed inspirational," Derby said.
Kerridge said Schofield ran her zoo on a shoestring budget with a handful of staff members. As a result, her death left its future in doubt.
Mila was being cared for by the Auckland Zoo after the death of Schofield.
Derby said she didn't know any details about the accident and no one from New Zealand had called.