Zookeepers presented seven possible new homes for Maggie on Wednesday night to the Alaska Zoo board, but a final decision is probably more than a month away, and it's unlikely the zoo's only African elephant will leave the state by the end of the summer.
It's more important to make sure the best facility is found and the move is done right than to rush Maggie on to a plane before next winter, board president Dick Thwaites said after the meeting.
Paul Joslyn, a wildlife biologist and vice president of the group Friends of Maggie, said waiting too long to decide on a destination for the elephant could cause problems.
"My concern I have is time is marching on," he said. "If she has to endure another winter it's anybody's guess how she will do."
None of the prospective facilities has been named. Alaska Zoo officials have said several want to stay out of the controversy surrounding Maggie until a decision on where she will go has been made.
All the facilities presented to the board have expressed interest in housing Maggie, but additional zoos or sanctuaries would be considered if they ask to be added to the list, Thwaites said. The board asked its staff to recommend six or fewer finalists by their next meeting Aug. 8.
When coming up with this short list, zoo officials will look at a number of factors including climate, how close the institutions are to transportation hubs and how high their staff turnover rate is, he said. They're only considering places that currently hold African elephants, like Maggie.
Cost is also an issue -- the zoo doesn't have funds to transport Maggie right now -- but not the only one, Thwaites said.
Officials at all facilities still under consideration have said they'd want to meet Maggie before making a final decision, he said.
Even if another facility seemed like a good match to the Alaska Zoo board, officials at the chosen zoo or sanctuary could still have reservations about taking Maggie.
Staff at the new facility, for example, would want to observe Maggie and try to reassure themselves that she would socialize with their elephants, Thwaites said, or determine if pregnancy is a healthy option for her.
The issue of crate training Maggie for flight is also up in the air. Some experts say introducing an elephant to its crate before the move only increases stress while others believe training is vital, Thwaites said.
"It's not an easy decision," he said. "You have to have all these things in place."
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