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Tag: captivity

Elephant treadmill will train Iditarod dogs

maggieWhat do you do with an ever-so-slightly used $100,000 elephant treadmill?

If you’re a zoo in Alaska, you do the same thing you did with your captive elephant — admit it was a mistake and find it a new home.

The Alaska Zoo had the treadmill custom made so that Maggie the elephant — fat, cold and lonely being the only elephant in Alaska — could get some exercise in her otherwise cramped quarters. When the zoo finally came to its senses and shipped Maggie to a sanctuary in northern California, that left them with a contraption that wasn’t in too great demand. Not the sort of thing you can put out at the yard sale. Though the zoo did try selling it on Craigslist.

While the zoo didn’t get paid for the treadmill, they did find a home for it: Iditarod musher Martin Buser has hauled it to his kennel to be used to train his dogs for the 1,150-mile race, the Alaska Dispatch reports.

While he won’t have it reassembled in time to train dogs for the coming race, Buser, a four-time Iditarod winner, expects to use it in the future. Built for an 8,000-pound elephant, it’s 10,000 pounds and 22 feet long, more than big enough to let a whole team of dogs run on at once.

elephant_treadmillAt Buser’s Happy Trails Kennels, he plans to use it to let his dogs run long distances while getting nowhere, invite scientists to use it to learn more about sled dogs, and possibly entertain tourists who want to see a team of dogs run long distances without getting anywhere — like the Iditarod, only without the freezing cold or the breathtaking scenery.

Maggie the elephant left the Alaska Zoo in 2007, after several years of controversy over whether she should ever have been brought there in the first place.

The treadmill was the zoo’s attempt to get Maggie exercising through Alaska’s long winters. It was one of the steps the zoo took to improve her controversial and cramped living conditions. Critics argued she should be in a warmer climate , with more open space, where she could walk outdoors year-round and be with other elephants.

But the zoo decided to try the treadmill experiment first. It didn’t work out, zoo officials admitted. Maggie would have nothing to do with the treadmill — an objection to which we can relate.

At that point, the zoo gave up and loaded Maggie on an Air Force C-17 for a flight to northern California, where, thanks in part to funding from animal activist/game show host Bob Barker, she’s living the rest of her life at ARK 2000, an animal sanctuary in San Andreas operated by the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).

After Maggie left town, Buser called the zoo and inquired about the machine. In exchange for the treadmill, Buser added the zoo to his list of official sponsors.

In addition to drawing tourists, Buser says the treadmill will allow for closer scientific research of his sled dogs. Instruments like oxygen consumption masks and heart rate monitors can yield valuable information, but can’t be used when the dogs are running outside.

Sled dogs cruise at 10 to 12 mph, the Swiss-born Buser said, but he’d like to get the treadmill up to 20 mph so he can put his dogs through some speed workouts. Buser said he probably won’t get his dogs on the treadmill until after the coming Iditarod, which has its ceremonial start in Anchorage on March 6.

Chapter Two: Cute Knut’s loot

As the Berlin Zoo continued to make money off of Knut (pronounced kuh-NOOT), another zoo decided this year it deserved a piece of the action.

Tierpark Neumuenster animal park filed a lawsuit against the Berlin Zoo, saying that, in exchange for loaning Knut’s father, Lars, to the Berlin Zoo for breeding purposes, it deserved some of the profits the Berlin Zoo was raking in. Originally, the Berlin Zoo had promised the first surviving cub to them, the Neumuenster zoo claimed in the lawsuit.

While it wasn’t seeking Knut, the Neumuenster zoo argued it was entitled to some of the revenue. The lawsuit was later dropped and an out-of-court settlement reportedly reached.

By the time of this news report, Knut wasn’t so little anymore. He was up to 243 pounds — no longer exactly cuddly, but still drawing visitors.

A couple of months after it, Knut’s caretaker, Thomas Doerflein, who had bottle fed Knut as a cub and slept beside him at night, died, at 44, of a heart attack.

In effect, he was Knut’s daddy. Between his death, and the money-grubbing, Knut’s story was getting a little less heartwarming, but Knut himself remained fat, happy and secure in his home at the zoo.

Well, at least fat and happy.

The class of “71”

    Slated to be sold to a circus after her mother was killed by hunters, a baby elephant from Africa arrived in the U.S. a quarter of a century ago in chains.
    She had no name, just a number.
It was 71.
    Instead of ending up at a circus, she was purchased by a wealthy landowner in Florida and lived on his estate, but — having been taken so young from her mother — she was malnourished, chronically sick and nearly died.
    In an attempt to save her life, Pat Derby and Ed Stewart, founders of the Performing Animal Welfare Society in California, offered to give her sanctuary.

When she arrived at PAWS, again in chains, veterinarians said she would never be healthy, but Derby and Stewart bottle fed the elephant — whose name would remain simply “71” — until she was strong enough to eat on her own. They slept with her for months.

“When 71 first arrived and walked out of her crate,” Derby recalls, “we immediately cut the chains from around her neck. We promised her right then she would never again be chained. She would never be beaten. She would never have to do anything she didn’t want to do. We kept that promise to her.”

71 peacefully passed away on Friday, September 19,  PAWS reports. She was 26 years old.

“71 was the cornerstone of PAWS. She was the reason for everything that guides PAWS’ founding mission. She leaves a legacy for the other African elephants, Mara, Ruby, Lulu and Maggie, whom she led,” Derby said.

Derby believes captivity — the practice of capturing elephants, tearing them away from their families, forcing them to live in confined spaces, and using often cruel techniques to train them — is ultimately what destroys them.

“I hope everyone who hears 71’s story will remember her when they see elephants languishing in small spaces, rocking and swaying, deprived of their freedom and their families,” she said. 

Founded in 1984 by Derby, a former Hollywood animal trainer (“Flipper”, “Daktari”, “Gunsmoke”, “Lassie”, “Gentle Ben”) and her partner, Ed Stewart, PAWS maintains three sanctuaries for captive wildlife – 30 acres in Galt, California, 100 acres in Herald, California and 2,300 acres in San Andreas, California.

As an animal trainer in Hollywood — one whose methods were based on trust as opposed to fear — Derby was shocked at what she calls rampant neglect and abuse. Her autobiography, Lady and Her Tiger, was the first expose of the harsh training methods that she says once were standard in the entertainment industry.

PAWS is dedicated to the protection of performing animals, to providing sanctuary to abused, abandoned and retired captive wildlife, to enforcing the best standards of care for all captive wildlife, to the preservation of wild species and their habitat and to promoting public education about captive wildlife issues.

(Photo courtesy of PAWS)