Even a pachyderm can put on the pudge and need a nudge to peel a few pounds. But although there have been treadmills for horses, a treadmill for an elephant -- let alone 8,000-plus pounds worth of elephant -- didn't exist.
Maggie, the only elephant in Alaska, has lived at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage since 1983 and has put on some heft. The zoo has also been roundly criticized for letting her live by herself in such foreign conditions. Think dark, cold and snow -- not exactly what a Zimbabwean elephant should have. Not exactly what motivates most pudgy humans to go for a run either.
About a year ago, in part to stem criticism, the zoo hatched a plan to help her move … with a treadmill. Of course, one didn't exist. But Conveyor Engineering owner Sid Cannon heard of Maggie's plight and offered to build one for free. The company designs the heavy-duty conveyor systems used in mining and Cannon told the New York Times last year, "I figured that we put rocks on our conveyors that are as big as an elephant, and a treadmill is basically a conveyor, so building one would be no big deal."
Maggie's treadmill -- all $100,000 worth -- was installed last September, although she still hasn't quite taken a liking to it, it seems. Last year, the zoo talked about having her on it for up to three hours a day, but she still hasn't gotten three of her feet firmly planted on it, let alone walked on it. Still, she has managed with a high-fiber, high-fruit diet to tone up a bit, losing about 1,000 pounds or so. In the wild, elephants are on the move for up to about 16 hours a day foraging for food. Guess the room service at the zoo keeps her from getting out much.
The treadmill is about 25 feet long and 6 feet wide. Since elephants walk by simultaneously moving two legs at a time along a path only about 18 inches wide, the machine had to take concentrated weight. A computerized drive senses the torque on the belt and if Maggie suddenly decides she's done, the motor stops. Oh, and when Maggie takes to the tread, if she throws in a few intervals the piece also has eight speed levels (it maxes at 8 mph) and an incline option. Haven't heard if it has heart-rate monitoring or a built-in entertainment system with Internet access.
Alaska Zoo elephant trainer Beth Foglesong told the Anchorage Daily News that it may take years before Maggie is walking on the treadmill.
"We have to be patient," Foglesong told the paper. "The instructional video didn't come with it."
And you think you have problems designing and selling equipment for the growing heft and finicky moods of the American public?