By GEORGE BRYSON
Anchorage Daily News
June 04, 2007
At one end of the scale would be any card-carrying PETA member (or other animal rights activist) who passionately wants to send Maggie to a warmer latitude, preferably an elephant sanctuary in the South -- where the ground is soft and there's room to roam with other elephants.
And at the other end would be 88-year-old zoo founder Sammye Seawell -- who brought Maggie here as an orphaned African elephant 24 years ago this summer.
"Right now I feel very torn," said Seawell, speaking by telephone from her home in Anchorage. "I'm not sure which way is right. And I don't want to be adamant on either side until I make up my own mind."
Part of the argument in favor of relocating Maggie came three years ago in a study commissioned by the zoo, which found that 10 of 11 elephant experts recommended that she be moved to a more suitable facility south of Alaska. The report cited the importance of elephants enjoying the company of other elephants.
Throughout the first half of her life, that wasn't an issue for Maggie. She had Annabelle, the popular adult Asian elephant that provided the initial impetus to create the zoo in the first place (when in 1966, as a yearling, Annabelle arrived in Anchorage as the grand prize in a toilet tissue-selling promotion).
In fact the desire to provide company for Annabelle is what prompted the acquisition of then 6-month-old Maggie in 1983. Ten years ago, however, Annabelle suffered a severe foot infection that eventually destroyed the bones in her sole. She had to be euthanized. Since then, Maggie has lived alone.
"I can see that in a place where there are other elephants, maybe she would be happier," Seawell said. "Maybe."
But there is no way to know that for sure until Maggie is actually moved there, Seawell said. And she worries that Maggie might not conform.
"She's a pretty temperamental elephant, and she's not easy to get along with," Seawell said. "It could just be terrible someplace she's not happy."
At the same time, representatives of zoos and elephant sanctuaries have visited Anchorage to talk to her about what they can offer Maggie, and they make a strong case, Seawell said.
"They're very convincing," she said. "I might be wrong about keeping her."
But when she contemplates the danger of trying to truck an adult elephant such a long distance, she tends to change her mind. She knows of three instances in which elephants have died -- from panic and injury -- in the process of being transported far shorter distances.
"It's just cruelty beyond words," she said.
The 2004 report also noted the need for Maggie to be provided a softer surface in her stable, as well as larger quarters and more exercise. Since then, the zoo has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to meet those needs. Among other things, it purchased a $150,000 treadmill capable of withstanding the footfalls of an 8,000-pound elephant.
So far Maggie hasn't been willing to use the treadmill much, Seawell said, but they were told all along that it would take a couple of years for her to adjust to it.
The zoo has yet to install about $100,000 worth of soft flooring in her stall. Plans to do so this summer are currently on hold, pending a decision by the zoo's board of directors on Maggie's future.
The board is scheduled to resume its Maggie deliberations in a meeting Tuesday night.
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