City of Edmonton defending Lucy’s care after ‘dishonourable mention’ on Worst Zoos for Elephants list

Bob Barker meets Lucy the elephant at Edmonton's River Valley Zoo on September 17, 2009.
Bob Barker meets Lucy the elephant at Edmonton's River Valley Zoo on September 17, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ian Jackson

The City of Edmonton is firing back after the Edmonton Valley Zoo was given a “dishonourable mention” on the In Defense of Animals’ 2017 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants list.

The list claims that the zoo’s elephant, Lucy, lives a “lonely life of solitary confinement in a bone-chilling prison” and that her health problems would be “ameliorated” by a transfer to a warm-weather elephant sanctuary.

“Lucy has been cared for by responsible and dedicated zoo staff for more than 40 years,” said zoo director Denise Prefontaine. “We are committed to providing Lucy with the best care she would receive anywhere.”

Lucy arrived at the Edmonton Valley Zoo in 1977 as a two-year-old orphan. The zoo says she has some “manageable” health issues as a 42-year-old.

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“We are in the business of caring for animals and putting their best interests ahead of all else,” Prefontaine said. “The decisions we’re making with regards to Lucy are based on scientific knowledge, expert advice, and the intimate knowledge the zoo staff has of her condition.

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“To suggest we are doing anything other than acting in Lucy’s best interest is completely unacceptable.”

Lucy suffers from a respiratory condition that makes it hard for her to breathe when she’s in a stressful situation. For that reason, the zoo says it would be unsafe to move Lucy to a sanctuary.

In 2016 Dr. John Cracknell, an elephant expert, was brought in by Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums to complete an independent third-party report. In his report, Cracknell recommended that Lucy stay in Edmonton, calling it the only facility that he is aware of that can give her the care she needs.

Also in 2016, In Defense of Animals, along with another organization, Zoocheck, launched a legal challenge to the issuance of the zoo’s annual provincial zoo permit.

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Lawyers representing the city and the province argued that the animal welfare section of the Zoo Standards has no effect in law and cannot be enforced.

“I’m proud to say Lucy has an unparalleled enrichment and behavioural support system,” Prefontaine said. “Our dedicated team is committed to meeting Lucy’s needs, as well as the needs of all of the other animals in our care.”

A total of 12 zoos around the world were mentioned on the list. Edmonton and the Bronx Zoo in New York were given dishonourable mentions.

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