- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Animal handlers agonized over the issue for more than a year: the wisdom of moving Alaska’s only elephant away from the only home she has ever known.

Nine elephant experts were consulted from zoos and animal parks, and a decision was made: Maggie stays.

The 22-year-old African elephant will continue to reside at the Alaska Zoo with the understanding that her accommodations will be improved and she’ll have to maintain a busy schedule, including aerobic workouts on an elephant treadmill.

“We felt we owed Alaska the right to continue to make Alaska the home for Maggie. She has an adoring crowd,” said Anita Pritchard, a member of the zoo board that voted overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the elephant.

Maggie arrived at the zoo in 1983 as an infant from South Africa. She joined Annabelle, a more easygoing elephant born in India in 1964. When Annabelle died of a chronic foot infection in 1997, the question of Maggie’s loneliness had to be addressed.

Zoo staff wondered whether she should be moved to another zoo that has more elephants. The American Zoological Association recommends that female elephants be kept in groups of three or more. A zoo committee considered moving Maggie to the 550-acre North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro.

But one expert felt that Maggie was healthy and content just where she was. Most of the others felt her situation wasn’t ideal but neither was moving her, particularly when factoring in the risk of sending her on a long trip and whether she would fit in at her new home.

The experts weren’t concerned about the weather in Anchorage, where temperatures can dip to 20 below zero in winter. “None of them believed climate was an issue,” zoo director Tex Edwards said. “They were more concerned about her quality of life and level of activity.”

Zoo officials are talking with engineers and manufacturers about building Maggie her own exercise equipment. The improvements, to be completed in two to three years, will cost an estimated $500,000 and are part of a $4 million campaign to improve the zoo.

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