Environmental group wants Alaska Zoo to retire elephant to California

Posted: Monday, May 15, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A California-based environmental group is lobbying to get the Alaska Zoo to send its 19-year-old elephant to California.

Members of the Earth Island Institute say Maggie the elephant isn't happy in Anchorage. They say the animal needs more company and warmer surroundings.

The group said in a letter that keeping the African-born Maggie in Alaska is scientifically and morally unethical. The group claims that it teaches people, especially young children, that it's OK to provide the wrong environment for a species.

''Now is the time to retire Maggie from the cold and unnatural environment of Alaska, and to move her to a sanctuary where she can enjoy the remainder of her life experiencing sun, warmth, grass, and other elephants,'' the letter said.

The group suggests that Maggie be moved to a facility in Galt, Calif., near Sacramento.

Zoo director Sammye Seawell said she hadn't seen the letter although she's received dozens like it over the past two months since People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals posted an article online about Maggie.

The article on the group's Web site said elephant experts agree that it's cruel to keep an elephant isolated from others of its kind and urges readers to write the zoo on Maggie's behalf.

All of the letters she's received so far have been thrown into the trash, Seawell said.

''We're not going to even think about it,'' she told the Anchorage Daily News. ''We really love Maggie, and we're not going to do what idiots say that don't know what they're talking about.''

Several letter writers have described a life of misery for Maggie that includes living in an unheated building and never getting to go outside.

That's flat out wrong, Seawell said. Maggie has a heated building and can go in and out whenever she wishes. She also has her own pond.

While she does live alone, that's only since Annabelle died in 1997, and she has seems happier since her peer's passing.

''Maggie was the most unruly, awful animal to get along with,'' Seawell said. ''When Annabelle died, we thought it was going to get worse. But it's been the exact opposite. She couldn't be nicer. She's just happy to go out and roll in the snow.''

Officials with PETA, however, say Seawell is the one who doesn't know what she's talking about.

''I'd like to see her credentials on elephant behavior,'' said Mary Beth Sweetland, the group's director of research and investigation.

Although she's never seen Maggie or the zoo, Sweetland said, ''I think it's been well identified that one of cruelest things you can do is keep highly social herd animals isolated from others of their kind.''

Maggie, 19, was brought to the Anchorage zoo when she was a year old to be a companion for Annabelle, Seawell said.

She was bought from a game farm in New York, which imported her from Zimbabwe. The African nation sold her to thin its herds, Seawell said.

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