Alaska's Lone Elephant Will Move to Warmer Home

A long struggle over finding a warmer climate for Alaska's only elephant will be resolved Thursday when Maggie journeys south to her new home: the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary in San Andreas, Calif. The 25-year-old African elephant will be loaded into a C-17 cargo plane for the one-way trip out of Alaska. Jim Bogert, a Department of Defense civilian employee who is overseeing Maggie's transport, talks with Melissa Block.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

If all goes according to plan, tomorrow, Maggie the African elephant will be loaded on to plane in Anchorage, Alaska, headed for her new home in northern California. Maggie spent the last quarter century at the Alaska zoo, in an elephant house with concrete floors and a small out door space. For the last 10 years, and elephant experts have long urged the zoo to find a better, warmer home for Maggie. Finally the zoo agreed. She'll be taken in by the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary in San Andreas.

So, how do you get an 8,000 pound pachyderm from Alaska to California? Well, you ask the Air Force. Jim Bogert is in charge of the team who'll be loading Maggie into a C-17 cargo plane at Elmandorf Air Force Bass in Anchorage. And Mr. Bogert, I guess no commercial airplane is big enough so they turned to you.

Mr. JIM BOGERT (Employee, Department of Defense): There are a few commercial airplanes. One's a Russian made Antonov 124, and that's - well, actually, that's probably about it.

BLOCK: Now, what's the trick for getting Maggie safely and comfortably onto this plane?

Mr. BOGERT: Well, we've been working on this for, probably, roughly since June and making the plan. And just a lot of pre-planning. She'd be put in a cage at Alaska Zoo, and then they'll lift the cage there. They'll let it hang in there for a little bit to get use to it. I imagine it's going to be unfamiliar to her and then they'll put her on a lowboy at Alaska Zoo and then bring her to the base.

BLOCK: A lowboy.

Mr. BOGERT: A flat bed truck. A lower one.

BLOCK: And she'll be standing the whole time?

Mr. BOGERT: I believe - yes. She will be standing. Her legs will also - all four legs will be chained and secured too.

BLOCK: I gather that you were in charged of trying to record some sounds so that Maggie could get use to some of the sound that shell be hearing. Is that right?

Mr. BOGERT: Yes. We actually went out there. Mr. Lampi, the director of Alaska Zoo, gave us a tape recorder, requested that we record the sound of the C-17. So any sound that we could get associated with loading the aircraft and they'd played that back to her in her pen so she could get used to the sounds.

BLOCK: Mr. Bogert, what's the total cost for moving Maggie to California?

Mr. BOGERT: I know the cost of the airlift is roughly $200,000. I couldn't - that's a rough. I don't know all the details.

BLOCK: An I think, somehow, in here, Bob Barker gets involved.

Mr. BOGERT: I understand that he donated the money and from what I understand, Bob Barker is paying for the airlift.

BLOCK: I imagine you and a lot of other folks in Anchorage have gotten pretty used to having Maggie around. How do you feel about her moving?

Mr. BOGERT: Well, it's a little bit personal. We've - I'm a long Anchorage residence. My kids were here - I was here when Maggie came to Anchorage. My kids have grown up with Maggie. She's like a household name to a lot of people in the toes so it's hard to see her leave but we're all glad to see her go to a warmer climate. And I think she'd probably be much happier in California.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Bogert, best of luck tomorrow.

Mr. BOGERT: Well, thanks you.

BLOCK: Good talking to you. Thanks a lot.

Mr. BOGERT: Nice talking to you. Thank you.

BLOCK: Jim Bogert is the civilian in charged of aircraft services at Elmandorf Air Force Base in Anchorage.

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