Maggie, former Alaska Zoo resident, dies at 41

Maggie, an African elephant, died at an animal sanctuary in California. (Performing Animal Welfare Society)

Maggie the elephant, a former Alaska Zoo resident who retired to California, has died. Maggie was 41.

“She was really a wonderful elephant. A beautiful elephant with a rough history but an indomitable spirit. A big, big personality,” said Jackie Gai, Maggie’s veterinarian in her final years. “She had a beautiful face with long eyelashes. A very sweet and expressive face. ”

Maggie moved to Anchorage in 1983 as a young orphan from southern Africa. She stayed for 24 years. 

The intention was for Maggie to be a companion for Annabelle, who already lived in Anchorage as The Alaska Zoo’s first elephant. But their relationship was difficult. Annabelle would boss Maggie around. They were different species’: an Asian elephant and an African elephant.

“When Annabelle passed away, Maggie sort of came into her own,” Zoo communications manager Katie Larson said. “She realized she didn’t have to share her space anymore. And there was no longer an older elephant sort of taking all the good things, and all the attention.”

Maggie as a new arrival at the Alaska Zoo. (Bob Pate)

But Maggie suffered from arthritis and dental disease. The zoo staff and board came to the conclusion Alaska wasn’t the best place for her. She needed a warmer climate and, Larson said, to be with other elephants.

“It was an emotionally charged decision, and a very hard decision for us to make, but we really felt within our hearts it was the right thing for Maggie,” said Larson.

So, in 2007, Maggie boarded an Air Force C-17 in Anchorage and flew to California.

Her new home was a sanctuary in San Andreas, Calif., run by the Performing Animal Welfare Society. Dr. Gai, director of veterinary services for PAWS, said Maggie flourished in her new habitat, with acres of hills to roam and mud to wallow in.

And Maggie had a best friend: Lulu, a retired zoo elephant from San Francisco.

“They refused to be apart. Everywhere Maggie went, Lulu went, and vice versa,” Gai said. “So it’s just what I would say was the deepest of friendships.”

Gai said Maggie seemed to choose the place of her death. On Tuesday, Maggie lay down under a favorite oak tree. With Lulu by her side and a caregiver nearby, Maggie drew her last breath.

While African elephants in the wild can live to 65, Gai said Maggie exceeded the median life expectancy for a captive elephant.

“She was a good friend to her elephant friends, and she was lucky to have a caring zoo director who made the right decision for her,” Gai said. “And we are honored to have had the opportunity to care for her all these years.”

Gai said Lulu seems sad and is getting extra attention. 

Maggie’s care was funded for several years by game-show host and animal advocate Bob Barker, who also reimbursed the Air Force for Maggie’s flight from Alaska.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz

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