The U.S. Air Force will fly Maggie, Alaska's only elephant, to her new digs in California next week.
Officials at Elmendorf Air Force Base were asked to transport the 25-year-old African elephant to an elephant sanctuary run by the Performing Animals Welfare Society but needed approval from the Pentagon to do so, said Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Kelley Jeter.
Maggie is scheduled to leave Anchorage on Thursday aboard a C-17 cargo plane that will take her to Travis Air Force Base. The PAWS sanctuary is located about 55 miles from Travis, which is near Sacramento.
PAWS turned to the Air Force for help because no safe commercial transportation options were available. Maggie will travel in a specially designed 10-by-8-by-18-foot, 10,000-pound crate. Zoo handlers have been training her for weeks to tolerate being crated for the trip.
The trip from her current home at the Alaska Zoo to the PAWS facility should take about 12 hours, according to the Air Force. Handlers and veterinarians will accompany her.
PAWS will reimburse the Air Force for the full cost of the flight at regular commercial rates, Jeter said Thursday.
The bill is expected to be about $200,000, she said.
The Air Force is happy to provide the service, Jeter said.
"This gives our guys an opportunity to train on loading something on their aircraft that is very different than what they usually do. This is great training for them."
After years of criticism from elephant experts and animal rights advocates about the conditions under which Maggie was forced to live -- alone and inactive in a small space and a cold climate -- members of the Alaska Zoo board of directors finally agreed last month to send her to PAWS. Their change of heart had been helped along when the Anchorage Fire Department and winches were needed twice in one week this past summer to lift Maggie to her feet because she was unable to stand on her own.