A year into her new life roaming a California sanctuary with other elephants, Alaska's favorite expat shows every sign of enjoying it. She trumpets, knocks down trees and calls for her companions when they wander too far, say her new keepers.
"She's the comedian of the crowd," said Pat Derby, president of the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary.
"She's Ms. Personality."
The facility, 50 miles southeast of Sacramento, offers Maggie three companions and 75 acres to roam. It's a stark contrast to what the Anchorage zoo could give her -- cold weather, no companions and a concrete enclosure most of the winter.
Those involved in the much publicized transfer -- the Alaska Zoo, the sanctuary and the activist group Friends of Maggie -- all hail it as a success.
"She's in elephant heaven," said Alaska Zoo director Pat Lampi, who hasn't seen Maggie in a year but heard from a board member who did three months ago.
After years of controversy, including protesters taking to the streets and a disappointing effort to get the elephant to exercise on a $150,000 first-of-its-kind treadmill, the Alaska Zoo board of directors voted to move Maggie to the Lower 48. On Nov. 1, 2007, she was crated and put aboard one of the largest cargo jets made, on loan from the military, and flown 2,000 miles to California.
OUT OF THE COLD
Maggie's life as a lone elephant in a cold climate drew criticism from across the nation. Animal advocate Bob Barker, former host of "The Price is Right" TV show, paid for the $400,000 trip.
When Maggie first got to the sanctuary, she was kept apart from the other elephants, mostly for her own safety, Derby said.
In February, after months of slow introductions across protective fences, she was put in a pasture with the other elephants. A video of the event on the sanctuary's Web site shows a tentative Maggie joining the others for a few moments, then backing off.
Four months later, according to a June video from the Web site, Maggie was regularly leaving the barn with the herd in the morning and returning with them in the evening. The leader, an elephant named 71, had bonded with her.
"71, the big cheese here, has totally accepted her," Derby said in the video. "Taught her some manners, but totally accepted her."
The video also follows Maggie as she leaves the group and inspects a lake on her own. "Every time Maggie goes off and comes back, her bonds with the others become stronger and stronger," Derby said.
Before she moved to California, Maggie's Alaska Zoo keepers worried about her aggressive personality, that she might not adjust well to other elephants. She had not seen another elephant since the 1997 death of her zoo companion, Annabelle.
Derby said in a recent phone interview that Maggie has a dose of "only-child syndrome," perhaps because she had so much attention for so long at the Alaska Zoo. When ignored, she announces her annoyance with her foghorn trumpet.
"She's the spoiled darling," Derby said.
In the year since Maggie's move, controversies about lone elephants at zoos have continued across the country. The Dallas Zoo, after flip-flopping on whether to send its elephant, Jenny, to a Mexico safari park, decided to expand its habitat and bring in a companion, said Steve Feldman, spokesman for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a national organization that coordinates between zoos and sets standards for animal care.
As the science of understanding elephants advances, the trend is toward larger herds and more complex, larger enclosures, Feldman said. The mandatory standards for elephant care are relatively new, he said. The conclusion that a female elephant should never be alone was adopted in 2003.
Find Megan Holland online at adn.com/contact/mholland.