Beyond Your Backyard: Time is Running Out For Lucy

  Lucy, being cleaned by hose and car wash brush. In the wild, water is of daily importance to elephants. Lucy never has experienced the joy of a cool pond.

Lucy, being cleaned by hose and car wash brush. In the wild, water is of daily importance to elephants. Lucy never has experienced the joy of a cool pond.

Kimberly J. Epp

World Elephant Day is coming up on August 12th. How will Canada's loneliest elephant, at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, "celebrate"? With a small pile of mud and a hose? Well, that was what she was able to "celebrate" with last year. But she certainly has nothing to be happy about. She is our most northerly North American elephant, living all alone at the Edmonton Valley Zoo.

  Lucy's keeper, with the ever-present bulhook.

Lucy's keeper, with the ever-present bulhook.

It is a well documented fact that elephants do poorly in captivity. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, elephants are social animals. To not allow companionship is nothing more than torture for them. In the wild, they live in large family groups run by the head matriarch - which is usually the Grandmother. Secondly, they develop a number of ailments that are not found in wild elephants.

They aren't able to walk the long distances wild elephants do, so can develop compaction in their guts. Their diets are not varied enough, which also contributes to this. In the wild, an elephant will eat up to 200 different kinds of fruits and vegetation. In captivity, they spend a lot of time on concrete, so develop "foot rot". When not allowed a pond to swim and lay in, and by spending so much time walking and standing on concrete, many develop arthritis. At only 43 years old, Lucy has both arthritis and foot ailments.

In sanctuaries, elephants can live into their 80's. In zoos, time usually runs out for these captive elephants by age 45 to 50. Lucy, an Asian Elephant, was stolen from her mother in Sri Lanka at the tender age of two. A two year old calf still nurses from its mother. There is no doubt she still remembers her mother and her herd. Elephants have the largest brains of any land mammal, and are one of the most intelligent creatures on earth. They truly never do forget.

In 2009, Bob Barker offered the zoo $100,000 to get Lucy independently checked by a vet not affiliated with the zoo. He also offered to cover costs of transporting Lucy to sanctuary. The zoo refused even the independent vet evaluation. The zoo and city know that Lucy brings people into their zoo, and they make money off of her paintings. They even make money exploiting her in fashion shows as well as by charging exorbitant amounts of money so you can spend some one on one time with Lucy.

The Edmonton Valley Zoo is currently undergoing upgrades again, but unfortunately Lucy is being left out in "the cold". The new projects will total 45.5 million dollars. Why wouldn't they spend any money to make Lucy's life even just a little bit better, especially if she is so important to them? This is in addition to the 34 million spent in 2013 for the new entrance, education center, gift shop, cafe, and otter exhibit, etc. How out of touch is Edmonton to spend this kind of money on a dying zoo industry?

  Lucy being walked in the snow and cold. It's important to remember that Lucy comes from a warm climate. Although a jacket was specially made for her, and donated to the zoo, zoo staff refused to let her wear it.

Lucy being walked in the snow and cold. It's important to remember that Lucy comes from a warm climate. Although a jacket was specially made for her, and donated to the zoo, zoo staff refused to let her wear it.

For Lucy, a pool would have been a small drop in the bucket compared to these other expenses. Pachyderms cool and relax their bodies in the water. If the zoo cares about their main "money maker", why is there no pool in the budget? Why no mud wallow? Why no improvements to her enclosure or barn? How can she soothe her arthritic bones? Her arthritis has been seen to be getting notably worse. She walks like an 80 year old elephant, and she is still relatively young.

  This is the barn where Lucy spends the majority of her time. She has a small outdoor enclosure, but is inside for most of the winter months.

This is the barn where Lucy spends the majority of her time. She has a small outdoor enclosure, but is inside for most of the winter months.

On World Elephant Day (August 12th), the Lucy Edmonton Advocate Project (LEAP) will be holding a demonstration for Lucy at the Edmonton Valley Zoo from 2 to 4 pm. Details can be found on their Facebook page. Mary-Ann Holm chairs LEAP, and has been very passionate about Lucy's struggles. She has twice visited the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, and seen first-hand how elephants in much worse condition and much older than Lucy, have healed and thrived. For most of these elephants, they have never experienced human compassion. No matter their torturous lives, they are still so forgiving. New elephants are accepted into the herds. Friendships are formed. We truly can learn much about compassion, acceptance and forgiveness from elephants.

Mary-Ann has also seen elephants in the wild of Africa, even visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, and seen orphaned baby elephants thrive under the amazing care of their keepers. Once old enough, these orphans are re-introduced to the wild. Mary-Ann certainly understands elephants more than most. She even took the time to meet with conservationists in Sri Lanka to see where Lucy came from. Lucy deserves to be retired before it becomes too late for her.

  This photo does not depict a happy elephant. There's no doubt Lucy is in stress, and has also been seen exhibiting high-anxiety swaying.

This photo does not depict a happy elephant. There's no doubt Lucy is in stress, and has also been seen exhibiting high-anxiety swaying.

The Toronto Zoo made the best choice for their 3 African Elephants when they sent them to the PAWS sanctuary in California. When will Edmonton do what's best for Lucy? One thing that will continue is the hard work and dedication advocates have put in towards educating people - and advocating for Lucy's release to a sanctuary. If only Lucy knew how hard people have been working for her freedom.

To help Lucy, please don't visit this zoo. Attend their W.E.D. demonstration if you are in Edmonton. Go to the LEAP Facebook page for a list of contacts you can write to, including Environment Minister, Shannon Phillips. You can donate to LEAP. Educate others about her plight. We can only hope to stop the exploitation of elephants like Lucy through education. In the meantime, the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary will leave their light on for Lucy.

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Epp is an Environmental Educator and Writer with over 25 years of experience in environmental education. She is also the President of the Moose Jaw Nature Society. She can be reached at kepp@shaw.ca.