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Canadian Projects

Canadian Blog

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate

Born Free USA's Canadian Representative

Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)

Lucy in the Cold with Arthritis

A Sad Elephant Saga Drags On

Published 03/22/11

As I hope I’ve made clear in my own last two blogs, Canadian zoos are no places for elephants, at least not from the elephants’ perspective. The animals don’t survive.

An elephant at the Rotterdam Zoo.
(Photograph by Fred Fokkelman)

They come down with various serious medical problems relating to the fact that they just aren’t suited to the conditions available in zoos in cold climates. They develop a variety of illnesses that are not encountered in wild elephants, especially those derived from lack of exercise, cold and dampness, and lack of natural social interactions. Foot infections and crippling arthritis are major problems that cut their age nearly in half. Unlike the wild elephants, they breed poorly, a situation that creates a “need” to remove still more elephants from their home ranges to bolster captive populations at the cost of the elephants’ health and well-being.

Which brings us to Lucy, the lone Asian elephant still confined to a zoo in Edmonton, Alberta. Lucy has touched the hearts of many around the world, but not, alas, those in a position to help her. She’s sick, and although the veterinarian chosen by the zoo to look at her agrees with that, he reportedly claims she’s getting better. The zoo, municipally run, refuses to allow an independent assessment by elephant veterinarian experts.

Lucy should be moved to one of two elephant sanctuaries in the United States that can provide her with the ample space and elephant companionship she needs, under expert loving care, while also allowing her to live out whatever remains of her shortened life in a climate more closely resembling the one her species evolved to inhabit — one less harmful to her already compromised health.

The zoo has failed to meet a court deadline to diagnose and treat Lucy by March 1. There is a legal appeal due on March 29, concerning a previous court decision that outlined that the elephant’s fate lay first with need for an investigation by the local SPCA, which is also funded by the city.

Also, all zoo permits for Alberta’s zoos are due for review on April 1. Zoos are not, under existing legislation, supposed to be licensed to keep elephants unless they have three of them, in recognition of elephants’ social nature. Lucy is alone. Not that I expect the law to be upheld, or any consequences if it isn’t. My colleagues have asked the government not to renew the permit anyway, if only to illustrate the absurdity of it all. And we are planning a one-day symposium for elephants in captivity in April, in hopes of keeping people interested and concerned about the country’s ailing captive elephants, and further showing why Canadian zoos are bad for elephants’ health and survival.

Lucy is 35 years old, middle-aged for a wild elephant, but near the end of the lifespan one can expect for elephants in Canadian zoos. Surely she has served the city by being an attraction to the zoo, and now that she is in medical distress, the city can find the moral integrity to serve her, to allow her to know her last years in warmth, in open spaces, and in the company of elephant companions. The zoo will survive the absence of this unfortunate animal. Animal protectionists will pick up the tab of her rescue. Legendary TV personality Bob Barker, for example, has offered $100,000 to Edmonton just to allow experts to examine Lucy.

Other zoos have done the right thing by way of their elephants and placed them in sanctuaries. Edmonton has the moral obligation to do the same.

Blogging off,

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