Zoo elephant a conundrum

I guess since everyone else has weighed in on the Maggie controversy, I should toss my two cents into the pot.  So here’s my honest opinion on the matter.  I don’t know what is best for Maggie and I really don’t think all the experts and others concerned about her know what’s best for her either.

I think what we have here is a whole lot of people who are totally dedicated to making sure that Maggie has the best quality of life possible. I think that the fact that there are so many competing groups passionately debating this issue says something pretty wonderful about Alaskans as a whole. After all, in how many other states would the fate of the zoo elephant be front-page news?  Or her name be so well known?

I have always been upfront about the fact that my views of wildlife, growing up in Atlantic City, New Jersey in the fifties, was shaped by one thing and one thing only – the movie Bambi. To this day I’m pretty sure little deer frolic in the woods with little rabbits while bears sing in unison nearby.

Having spent almost 30 years in a state in which hunting is more revered than motherhood and apple pie, there is obviously a part of my consciousness that is aware that maybe, just maybe, nature is not all that nice and survival of the fittest doesn’t mean that Bambi can skate better on the icy pond than Thumper. I’m acutely aware of the cycle of life and the fact that it is just not very nice from a Bambi-ish point of view.

But it is that Bambi point of view that will always color my perceptions of nature because it was the defining influence on my knowledge of wildlife as a child.

So as I listen to all the experts hold forth on why Maggie should be sent out to live with other elephants or why she should stay here, I am aware that we are all operating from pieces of knowledge about elephants that are subsequently colored by our general views of nature. 

I don’t think anyone is questioning that female elephants are intelligent, social creatures and that bull elephants tend to life more solitary lives except during mating season.  That’s pretty much a given.  But if we accept that elephants are social being who can communicate and have unique personalities, then we also have to accept that they can be as different from one another as people are.

And so maybe the side that argues that Maggie is happier alone because she never got along with Annabelle has a point.  Maybe Maggie is just her own person and likes to fly solo.

The catch here, it seems to me, is how do we find out what is really best for Maggie without committing ourselves to a position that can’t be reversed.  If we send Maggie out to a refuge or wildlife sanctuary and it turns out she really just doesn’t like to be with other elephants, will we be able to bring her home?

To me, that’s the big question.  I want Maggie to be happy but if it turns out Alaska is where that happiness lies for Maggie, then before we send her out anywhere, I want to know that she can come home if it doesn’t work out in her new location.

I would have to be very honest here and say that they idea that a treadmill and slightly larger enclosure is going to solve Maggie’s problems is probably not realistic – though I can see where that treadmill will become an instant tourist sensation.  “Come to Alaska and see an elephant who has to walk a treadmill in winter, just like you and me!” We could probably set up a human treadmill next to Maggie and people would pay to work out with her.

But I digress.  Even though the current solutions to Maggie’s needs seem to my mind to not go far enough, sending her away with no chance of reversing that decision if it turns out to be wrong seems an even worse idea.

So it’s like I said at the beginning of this column. I think we all want what is best for Maggie no matter which solution we subscribe to. So I imagine the debate will continue for a long time to come.  I just hope we resolve it while Maggie is still healthy enough to enjoy whatever the solution finally is.