ANCHORAGE - Alaska's only elephant got a one-way ticket out of town Thursday, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.
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After a dispute that lasted months between those wanting Maggie to stay at The Alaska Zoo and those advocating for a warmer climate, the 25-year-old African elephant is heading to the Performing Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS, in San Andreas, Calif.
The Air Force agreed to transport Maggie as part of a training mission after officials with PAWS and the zoo found out the elephant was too big for a commercial airline.
Maggie will be loaded onto a C-17 cargo plane at Elmendorf Air Force Base Thursday evening and brought to Travis Air Force Base, where she will be trucked 85 miles to her new home. She will be accompanied by two veterinarians, two transport specialists, an animal behavior specialist and several zoo staff, as well as Ed Stewart, the co-founder of PAWS.
At the sanctuary, Maggie will have 30 acres where she will live with nine other elephants.
Maggie arrived at the Anchorage zoo as a baby in 1983 after her herd was culled in South Africa. She lives as the sole occupant in the zoo's elephant house with concrete floors and a small outside enclosure.
The zoo board initially balked at sending Maggie to another facility. With pressure mounting to do better by the elephant, the zoo embarked on an expensive campaign to improve her quality of life, including building a $100,000 treadmill Maggie couldn't be coaxed into using.
Pleas to have her moved grew louder this year when Maggie twice couldn't get back on her feet. Firefighters were called to hoist the 8,000-pound animal into a standing position.
The move became reality after retired game show host Bob Barker promised to donate $750,000 for her care.
Greg Carpenter, 43, said he used to come to the zoo as a kid to see Annabelle, its first elephant. While it's hard to see Maggie go, Carpenter thinks it is right. He tells his 5-year-old boy Garrett that Maggie deserves to be warm and have friends.
"I think it is probably a good thing," Carpenter said. "She's probably a lonely animal."