Protests mount for harnessed elephant

Maggie's new outfit allows zoo officials to more easily lift her

Posted: Tuesday, May 22, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Animal advocates demonstrated to step up pressure on the Alaska Zoo to send Alaska's only elephant south to a sanctuary with other animals.

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About two dozen people waved signs Sunday urging zoo officials to move Maggie the elephant soon rather than waiting until August for a review of her status.

"We just need to zoo to say, 'OK, we'll let her go,"' said Peggy McFarland. "They'd be respected a lot more in this community if they'd agree to do that."

Pat Lampi, the zoo director, only briefly commented on the rally.

"It's their right," he said.

Anchorage firefighters twice last week were called in to hoist the elephant to her feet after she lay down and could not get up on her own. The elephant's weight is estimated at 8,000 pounds. Animals that big can suffer internal organ damage if they lie down too long.

After the second incident, Alaska Zoo officials put the elephant in a sling while they looked for health problems. Tests have revealed nothing abnormal, Lampi said.

On Sunday, zoo officials replaced the sling with a loose-fitting harness made of nylon webbing. The outfit encircles Maggie's body with a strap around her chest and another around her rump.

"So if she should go down, it would be easy for us to hoist us back up," Lampi said. "We hope that isn't the case, and we don't anticipate it, but it's just precautionary. She seems to be wearing it around with no problem."

Lampi said the staff also is considering putting a mound of dirt in Maggie's enclosure so she can use it to roll herself up to a standing position.

"We're playing it by ear," he said.

Lampi did not know if the board would change the date for its review of Maggie scheduled August meeting.

"That's a decision to be made by the board of directors," he said.

Maggie left her South African herd as a baby more than 25 years ago after her mother was killed. In Alaska, she joined Asian elephant Annabelle at the zoo. Annabelle died in 1997.

Maggie spends cold months in a concrete enclosure. Animal rights groups say that makes her susceptible to health problems.

Diane Raynor helped form a group called "Free Maggie," which staged the demonstration. Raynor called the elephant's current conditions "ridiculous and absurd."

People have learned much about elephant needs and behavior in recent years, Raynor said. They are smart, social animals that like to be around other elephants. Seeing Maggie pent up and alone is heartbreaking, Raynor said.

Raynor said the rallies likely will resume next weekend.

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