Happy news about animals
Firefighters perform all sorts of heroics, from putting out blazes, to helping the injured, to dealing with car wrecks.
But Sunday saw a first: Maggie, the Anchorage Zoo’s beloved African elephant, had lain down inside her indoor enclosure – and she wouldn’t get up. Zoo employees asked firefighters from Station 8 on O’Malley Road to help.
All told, the pachyderm was down for some 12 hours, said Young Suenram, an Anchorage Fire Department battalion chief. Firefighters worked with urgency to raise her up, he said. With animals Maggie’s size – about 7,500 pounds, says the zoo – the compressed weight of her own bulk can cause breathing and lung problems, and even kill her.
It was alarming to see “how badly she was looking,” Suenram said. “We worked at trying to get her up as soon as possible. We are just so ecstatic that she’s up now.”
Eileen Floyd, a zoo spokeswoman, said it’s not uncommon for Maggie to lie down.
“Usually what happens is when she lays down, and the keeper comes in, she gets right up,” Floyd said. “It’s highly unusual if she stays down. So that’s where all the worry and concern happens. If they stay down really long, they have a tough time breathing. So that was the fear – that if she didn’t get up, eventually, she could die.”
Maggie showed signs that she wanted to stand, but couldn’t, Floyd said. “She has a couple of little abrasions because when she was down and trying to get up and unable to she was thrashing around.”
Initially, eight firefighters were on the scene: Four from Engine 8 on O’Malley, and four from Engine 9, a team that specializes in “high angle rope rescue.” Not exactly elephant rescue, but the crew knows how to get people off mountain cliffs and building faces, Suenram said.
Later, they were joined by nine more firefighters, including the Urban Search and Rescue team that’s skilled in lifting collapsed buildings. “It was very appropriate, since we had an elephant,” Suenram said.
The firefighters went online for ideas on how to hoist the massive mammal. They found information about a similar case in Los Angeles, and used that elephant rescue as framework to use straps, a winch, and firefighter brawn to save Maggie.
The 17 firefighters worked for hours in Maggie’s pen.
“With human power and with mechanical power, we helped her up and got her legs underneath her,” said Suenram, speaking from the zoo on Sunday afternoon. “She’s up now and she’s standing up. She seems fine. She’s eating peanuts and having fun.”
Floyd said the day-long incident didn’t disrupt zoo business. Maggie’s area and others are closed right now because the snow leopard nearby is about the give birth and zookeepers want to keep the surroundings calm and quiet, Floyd said.
Maggie first left her South African herd as a baby more than 25 years ago, after her mother was killed. She spent a brief period in New York before coming to Alaska, and joining Asian elephant Annabelle at the zoo.
Maggie draws crowds – and controversy. Since Annabelle died in 1997, Maggie has lived alone. She spends the cold half of the year in a 1,600-square-foot concrete enclosure, and animal rights groups say this makes her more subject to health problems, even early death.
Throughout the debate, Maggie has remained popular with Anchorage residents and visitors, and one of the biggest draws at the zoo. The zoo’s board of directors is supposed to review the elephant’s status in August.