Zoo officials: Maggie not likely to leave this summer

Posted: Friday, July 13, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Maggie the elephant probably won't be moved from Alaska by the end of the summer as hoped, due in part to the number of new homes Alaska Zoo officials are considering for the state's only pachyderm.

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The zoo also doesn't have the money to move her immediately, Alaska Zoo Board President Dick Thwaites said.

Zookeepers told the Alaska Zoo Board on Wednesday night they are considering seven candidates to take the African elephant who has twice been rescued because she couldn't stand on her own. The decision could take at least a month, according to zoo officials.

The most important thing is finding the best facility for her, not getting her out as soon as possible, Thwaites said.

That's not the way it should be, said Paul Joslyn, a wildlife biologist and vice president of the group Friends of Maggie. The group has lobbied to have the elephant moved to a warmer climate where she can be housed with other female elephants.

"My concern I have is time is marching on," he said. "If she has to endure another winter it's anybody's guess how she will do."

Zoo officials have not yet named any of the facilities, saying several want to avoid controversy until the final decision is made.

Thwaites said all of the potential facilities have expressed interest and the board is still willing to consider other candidates.

The list is to be whittled down to six or fewer candidates at the board's Aug. 8 meeting.

Zoo officials said they considered factors such as climate, location and staff turnover rates while coming up with the seven candidates. They are only considering places that have other African elephants.

All of the facilities have said they would want to meet Maggie to judge her health and social habits before deciding whether they would accept her, Thwaites said.

Crate training is also an issue: Some say introducing an elephant to its crate before a flight increases its stress while others say it reduces it, he said.

"It's not an easy decision," Thwaites said. "You have to have all these things in place."

The elephant, originally from South Africa, has been at the Alaska Zoo since 1983.

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