A new medical assessment of Lucy, an Asian elephant notoriously kept all alone at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, reveals even more health issues—and a disagreement on whether she should be moved to a sanctuary.
The Edmonton Valley Zoo engaged with Free The Wild, a nonprofit organization founded in part by superstar Cher, to assess the health of Lucy. Four experts assessed Lucy as part of the evaluation, and while two wildlife vets with ties to the zoo industry felt that she should not be moved, two other experts (without zoo industry ties) disagreed.
Media reports have emphasized the Zoo’s conclusion that Lucy should not be moved, but that’s only part of the story. Dr. Patricia London, with decades of experience working directly with elephants, including at sanctuaries, wrote the most comprehensive report of all the experts, and advocated for Lucy to be moved to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. And Ingo Schmidinger with the Global Sanctuary for Elephants in Brazil, noted that the Zoo had failed to diagnose a breathing condition plaguing Lucy for the last 14 years, but that there was no other physical or psychological reason that she could not travel.
During the evaluation, the experts also discovered a previously unknown issue: Lucy has a large uterine tumour, which is now being treated. It’s shocking that it took this additional assessment to find this tumour, considering Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA), a zoo industry organization, requires the Zoo to perform a health assessment of Lucy every year.
Dr. London had scathing commentary on the conditions that Lucy is forced to endure at the Zoo, including that Lucy “is not permitted to do anything on her own and her daily life is lacking in any autonomy… she is not able to enjoy quiet moments of uncontrolled behavior… Lucy is being kept more like a pet and not being allowed to be the wild elephant she is. She is not being provided with the autonomy, space, socialization opportunities, or natural environment conditions she requires for her physical and psychological health.”
Dr. London also noted that the elephant house where Lucy spends most of her time is very small, and that “it appears that her exhibit was built with visitors in mind and not based on the well-being or needs of the species or individual.”
“Lucy is being kept more like a pet & not being allowed to be the wild elephant she is.”
— Dr. Patricia London
Dr. London said that Lucy appears to be provided with the same enrichment every day, creating an environment of predictability and monotony, and that many enrichment items did not focus on “encouraging natural behavior of the species and instead were geared more towards human enjoyment.”
Dr. London observed that Lucy has developed stereotypic behavior, such as standing and swaying for 20 minutes at a time, which is “a consequence of long-term psychological damage” because an impoverished, stressful captive environment results in physical damage to an elephant’s brain.
Dr. London also questioned whether Lucy’s breathing problems could be caused by living in an old unventilated barn in the harsh, cold environment of Edmonton—both issues that could be improved if she were transferred to a sanctuary.
“The forced walks on the snow and ice in -15C weather, borders on absurd,” wrote Dr. London. “There is simply no way to provide Lucy with an appropriate life or the life she deserves in Edmonton. It needs to be clear that her life at the Edmonton Valley Zoo and those unwilling to relocate Lucy or even make the previously suggested changes, own responsibility in what will be her probable early death. The decision to keep her in Canada, in such an unnatural environment, while also not providing her with adequate housing conditions that would meet at least her minimal mental and physical needs is what has created the impoverished scenario Lucy now finds herself in.”
“It is my opinion that it is possible to move Lucy and I do believe she should be moved for her health and welfare,” Dr. London told the media. “The health issues do not prevent her from being transported to a different, more appropriate environment. I witnessed no evidence of respiratory distress during any part of our exams and/or testing or walking around the zoo with her.”
Dr. London has overseen the transport of five elephants to sanctuaries.
For two decades, animal advocates have been fighting to send Lucy to a sanctuary in a warmer climate, including bringing Lucy’s case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Sadly, these legal efforts have not yet succeeded. And despite years of recommendations that Lucy’s enclosure be improved, the Zoo has yet to act to make her life more bearable.
Edmonton Valley Zoo Under Investigation
The Edmonton Valley Zoo is known as one of the worst zoos for elephants. Lucy has been trapped for over 40 years at the Zoo, living without a companion for over a decade. She’s known as one of the loneliest elephants on the planet.
The Edmonton Valley Zoo is under investigation regarding a complaint filed with CAZA by Animal Justice, after the Zoo publicly admitted to concerning and potentially unlawful conditions in a budget report before Edmonton’s city council.
In a budget report, the Zoo asked for nearly $11 million from the City of Edmonton to address serious animal welfare and public safety issues, including concerns over the well-being of Lucy. The report states the Zoo is not complying with CAZA standards, and suggests it is also in breach of Alberta’s provincial zoo standards.
The Jane Goodall Act, which is currently working its way through the legislative process, would protect hundreds of wild and exotic species from being held in captivity in Canada, including elephants. Add your support for the bill and make a difference for animals in zoos.
Banner: Jo-Anne McArthur | Zoocheck