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Firefighters help lift Alaska elephant in second incident

Firefighters and heavy towing equipment have helped lift Alaska's only elephant to her feet for the second time in a week week.

Maggie, who weighs 7,500 pounds (3,400 kilograms) was down for six or seven hours Wednesday before she was hoisted upright in her enclosure at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage. On Sunday the 25-year-old African elephant was down on her concrete floor as long as 19 hours before she was set back on her feet.

The incidents have renewed calls by animal advocates to relocate Maggie to a warmer locale where she can exercise in a more natural environment and be around other elephants. Critics said Maggie's lack of exercise might be causing degenerative muscle problems or arthritis.

Zoo officials have said Maggie might have had colic or a stomach ache, but have not ruled out any possibilities. They are consulting with local and outside veterinarians and have launched another round of blood work hoping to pinpoint a cause.

"Our first concern is her health and getting her better," said zoo spokeswoman Eileen Floyd.

Maggie appeared fine after both incidents, alert and eating normally, she said.

The zoo had the elephant on a round-the-clock watch after her first rescue Sunday. On Tuesday, she was doing so well, walking around in her outside pen in front of visitors, that she was checked on once an hour that night, Floyd said.

The elephant was standing when a handler checked on her at 4 a.m. Wednesday, but lying on her right side an hour later. Firefighters and a towing company with heavy equipment were called in and they used the towing equipment and straps to put Maggie back on her feet shortly after 11 a.m., according to Floyd.

As with the Sunday incident, Maggie had abrasions on her side from her efforts to stand up, Floyd said.

After Wednesday's rescue, Maggie was placed back on full-time watch and her section of the zoo was closed to the public.

The zoo also planned to periodically put Maggie in a sling to give her a chance to rest while she recovers.

Maggie's problem is not unique for a captive elephant, according to Mel Richardson, a former staff veterinarian who worked with elephants at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo and the San Antonio Zoo. Studies show that more than 50 percent of zoo elephants have some kind of arthritis or foot problem, said Richardson, who is now in private veterinary practice in Paradise, California.

Zoo elephants are dying in their mid-40s, he said, at least a decade less than expected in the wild.

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