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Dead zookeeper's dream realised

Published: 5:29AM Wednesday February 19, 2014 Source: Fairfax

Helen Schofield's dream is finally being fulfilled, nearly two years after her tragic death.

Her former charge, African elephant Mila, is being integrated with a herd at her new home in California.

It is the first time the 41-year-old pachyderm has seen other elephants in 37 years.

Placing Mila with others of her kind was the long-time goal of Schofield, who cared for her at Tuakau's Franklin Zoo until the elephant accidentally crushed her to death in 2012.

After her death the cause was taken up by other staff and supporters of the zoo who raised about $1.5 million for Mila's relocation.

She was flown to San Diego Zoo last year and spent the Christmas period in quarantine before receiving a clean bill of health late January.

Mila is now being permitted to mingle with other elephants at the zoo's Elephant Odyssey complex, which is specially designed for older pachyderms.

Six other African and Asian elephants, ranging in age from 33 to 49, live at the facility.

Mary, the oldest and the matriarch of the herd, was the first to meet Mila. Their initial encounter took place in adjoining yards with a wall as a barrier.

Zookeeper Robbie Clark said he was uncertain how Mila would react to meeting another elephant.

"Being excited, nervous, scared, aggressive, or submissive were all possibilities we could have expected to observe," he said.

"Mary was curious of the newbie while Mila was surprised to find something as big as her on the other side of the wall!"

The pair's subsequent encounters have been relatively calm and they will be out on public display together for the first time today.

It's hoped Mary can teach Mila how to interact with the rest of the herd, Mr Clark said. "We are confident that their relationship will continue to grow stronger as they spend more time together."

A spokesperson from the Franklin Zoo Charitable Trust says members are pleased with Mila's progress.

"She has shown great wisdom and courage in meeting Mary and they are behaving very gently with each other and may very well become great friends."

Mr Clark said Mila is in the peak of physical health and is coping well with her new surroundings.

"She continues to amaze us with her ability to learn quickly and adapt to new situations."

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