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Sick elephant hoisted in sling

ANCHORAGE, Alaska ” Zoo keepers have put Alaska’s only elephant in a sling until they find out why she’s having trouble getting back to her feet after lying down.

The sling is providing Maggie the elephant relief from her 8,000-pound bulk if she wants to get off her feet, said zoo director Pat Lampi.

Zoo officials were awaiting results of a second round of blood work. The initial round, taken after the elephant was found lying on her side the first time, showed nothing abnormal, Lampi said.

Putting large animals in slings to help them recoup is standard veterinary practice, said Dr. Susan Mikota, a Tennessee veterinarian and director of research for Elephant Care International, which focuses on elephant health and conservation issues. Mikota is keeping abreast of Maggie’s status, she said.

Slings commonly have been used on horses but also on giraffes and elephants, she said. A captive elephant was kept in a sling for a month while recovering from tetanus, Mikota said.

Last year, Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was held in a sling after shattering a leg in the Preakness. The thoroughbred ultimately was euthanized.

Dr. Elliot Katz, a veterinarian with In Defense of Animals, a California-based group that wants to see Maggie moved, is calling for the zoo to make Maggie’s medical files public. He said 60 percent of captive zoo elephants suffer from foot or joint problems because of lack of exercise and the hard surfaces they live on.

Lampi on Thursday rejected the request to share the elephant’s medical files with the public.

The elephant on Sunday and again Wednesday lay down in her enclosure and could not lift herself off the concrete floor. If an elephant is on the ground for too long, muscles, kidneys and other internal organs can be damaged. Anchorage Fire Department firefighters used straps and a winch to hoist the animal to her feet in both instances.

As the zoo awaits test results, the staff is exploring ways to safely allow her out of the sling. Putting a mound of dirt in her 1,600-square-foot enclosure so that she could lean against that and roll herself up more easily is one idea, Lampi said.

Animal rights groups including continue to push for the elephant to be moved to a Lower 48 sanctuary, where she could be with other elephants and be outside of a concrete enclosure during cold winter months.

Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com


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