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When Elephants Fly

Alaska's only elephant relocates to warmer climate with the help of some friends

By Laura Leigh Davidson | null null , null
Maggie the elephant backs out of her travel kennel at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, Alaska, Saturday Oct. 27, 2007 during a training session to familiarize her with the kennel. (Photo: ©Al Grillo/AP Images)
Maggie the elephant backs out of her travel kennel at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, Alaska, Saturday Oct. 27, 2007 during a training session to familiarize her with the kennel. (Photo: ©Al Grillo/AP Images)

When you think of the amazing animals that live in Alaska, an elephant probably isn’t the first one that comes to mind. But this state known for its very cold climate called Maggie the elephant their very own, until now.

On November 2, Maggie made her way to a new home in California aboard a huge cargo plane piloted by the United States Air Force. The elephant had recently developed health problems, and her caretakers agreed that a warmer climate and living with other elephants could help her get better.

Alaska Zoo officials worked with an organization called the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) to move Maggie to a warmer climate. Her new home is at the PAWS wildlife sanctuary, called ARK 2000, in San Andreas, California.

Moving Maggie

When officials with PAWS started making plans to move Maggie, they realized the 8,000-pound mammal was too big for a commercial airline. So, they asked the Air Force for help.

Transporting an elephant is not an easy task. The Air Force agreed to ship the elephant as part of a training mission code named "Operation Maggie Migration." She was flown from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, to Travis Air Force Base, California, aboard a new C-17 cargo plane.

John "Buck" Buchanan of the 60th Aerial Port Squadron at Travis Air Force Base was pleased to help the elephant on her journey. "We're proud and happy to have her come through Team Travis," he said. "This is precious cargo, a national treasure for us."

C-17 crew members helped load Maggie into a 10-foot-high, 10,000-pound crate specially designed for the elephant. According to a PAWS representative, the crate did not allow Maggie to turn around, but did have enough room for her to sway comfortably during the seven-hour trip to the animal sanctuary in California.

Farewell, Alaska

Maggie was born in Zimbabwe, Africa, and came to the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage as a baby in 1983 to be a companion for Annabelle, an Asian elephant. After Annabelle passed away in 1997, Maggie lived alone in the zoo's elephant house.

Initially, the Alaska Zoo board was reluctant to send Maggie to another facility. It tried to address her health problems by improving the elephant house. The board even had a $100,000 treadmill built to encourage her to exercise more, but Maggie wouldn’t go near it.

It became clear the elephant needed more aggressive care for her health problems when twice this year she couldn't get back on her feet. It took a team of firefighters to hoist the massive animal back into a standing position.

Officials at PAWS report that Maggie seems to be doing better at her new home in San Andreas. She is slowly getting to know the other elephants, and becoming part of the herd that lives in the special elephant habitat. You can see updates on Maggie at the PAWS Web site.


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