Killer elephant now at San Diego Zoo

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SAN DIEGO — An African elephant that accidentally killed one of her handlers in New Zealand was under quarantine Monday at the San Diego Zoo, where she is eventually expected to go on public exhibit.

Mila, believed to be nearly 40 years old, arrived in San Diego Nov. 14 and will be introduced to the zoo’s other elephants once tests prove she is clear of disease, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The 7,600-pound elephant brushed against an electric security wire on April 25, 2012, and in a panic, grabbed and squeezed 42-year-old veterinarian Helen Schofield, inflicting fatal injuries. At the time, Schofield was inside Mila’s enclosure to feed her and had tripped on the way out.

Schofield had cared for Mila for years as an operator of the eight-acre Franklin Zoo south of Auckland. Prior to being kept at the zoo, Mila had been rescued from a touring circus.

“She never meant to hurt Helen, I’m convinced of that,” the victim’s sister, Jenny Chung, told the Times. “She’s lovely and she deserves to live like an elephant.”

A coroner’s investigation confirmed that Schofield died as the result of an accident, not an attack.

The Franklin Zoo has since closed and a deal struck to airlift Mile from Auckland to Los Angeles, then driven to San Diego. According to the Times, Mila arrived at the San Diego Zoo’s Prebys Elephant Care Center on Nov. 14 and was immediately quarantined under standard U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines. She will remain quarantined until tests show she is free of tuberculosis, a common elephant ailment, the Times reported.

Mila is not the first rescue taken in by the Prebys Elephant Care Center, which has also accepted elephants from Texas and Tucson since it opened in 2009. With the addition of Mila, the center has three African elephants and four Asian elephants.

Keepers at the Prebys Elephant Care Center practice “protected contact,” which means handlers do not enter elephant enclosures. Instead, touch is established through small opens in bars. The practice became a standard in American zoos after a serious of deaths, including the death of a keeper at the zoo’s Wild Animal Park in 1991, but it is not the standard in New Zealand.

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