ANCHORAGE - Here's the deal: If the Alaska Zoo sends Maggie the elephant to a sanctuary in Northern California, retired game show host Bob Barker says he'll kick in $750,000 to help take care of her.
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The zoo would also get $100,000 from an anonymous donor.
But wait, there's more. The nonprofit that runs the sanctuary also promises to pay all of Maggie's travel and training costs.
The sanctuary belongs to the Performing Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS, and is already home to several African elephants. Barker and PAWS co-founder Ed Stewart want Maggie to move there too, and made their pitch to zoo officials and reporters Monday in Anchorage.
"Moving Maggie to PAWS will not cost the zoo, or the taxpayers of this city, one cent. Not a penny. So the price is right," Barker said.
Animal activists have long called for Maggie to move out of Alaska. The pressure mounted in May when firefighters had to hoist her to her feet because she couldn't stand up. In June, the zoo announced its directors had decided to move the 25-year-old African elephant.
But where should she go?
PAWS operates three sanctuaries in Northern California. The largest is 2,300 acres in San Andreas with five Asian and four African elephants, according to the nonprofit.
Zoo director Pat Lampi said the zoo board hasn't decided where to send Maggie yet and representatives from another facility plan to visit "very soon."
"We're waiting to see what they have to say," Lampi said.
Listening to Barker describe what life would be like for Maggie at the PAWS sanctuary was like hearing him tell you, in his deep, familiar cadence, about the fabulous trip you've won on "The Price is Right":
"She will have acres and acres of land to roam over. In the wild, elephants walk as much as 50 miles a day. Maggie is going to walk to her heart's content. Over grass, with trees around her, beautiful surroundings," said Barker, who is a longtime animal-rights activist.
He continued: "There's a pond for her to swim in. There's a mud hole. Elephants love to play in the mud. She can frolic in the mud to her heart's content."
Not everyone's a fan, though.
Charlie Sammut is head trainer and a director at the Elephants of Africa Rescue Society, another facility that takes in retired elephants. Sammut said that he was in Alaska as recently as last week helping train zoo staff, but his facility isn't right for Maggie: "Several of the other institutions that are considering Maggie are better than both mine and PAWS."
He said the PAWS offer is like a bribe.
"The Bob Barker thing is ridiculous. He doesn't need to come all the way to Anchorage to make a proposal that was made a week ago. ... This is nothing more than another colorful media maze to bully the zoo officials into making a decision that they're not comfortable making yet," Sammut said.
Lampi said the zoo's decision will be based on finding the best place for Maggie, not what's being offered to the zoo.
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