Latest examination recommends Lucy stay at Edmonton Valley Zoo

Lucy the elephant walks with her handlers at Edmonton's River Valley Zoo on September 17, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ian Jackson

After another examination by the University of Calgary School of Veterinary Medicine, the Edmonton Valley Zoo says results continue to show that Lucy the elephant should not be moved to a sanctuary.

Instead, the zoo plans to reach out to experts on older elephants and possibly make changes to her enclosure to keep her comfortable in her old age.

Animal rights activists have been calling for Lucy to be moved for a number of years, citing things like the elephant’s cramped space, Edmonton’s cold weather and the fact that Lucy is alone as reasons to relocate her.

In 2016, the Edmonton Valley Zoo was named as the fourth worst zoo for elephants by the organization In Defence of Animals. It was the seventh year in a row the zoo was on the group’s annual list. In 2017, the Edmonton Valley Zoo received a “dishonourable mention” regarding Lucy. The zoo was not on the 2018 list.

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Lucy, a 44-year-old African elephant, has lived at Edmonton’s zoo since 1977. The zoo has long maintained that moving her to a sanctuary would worsen her condition or kill her.

In 2016, Lucy’s condition was reviewed by an independent veterinarian. At the time the vet said Lucy was suffering from dental and respiratory issues even then, but if the zoo chose to move her she was “highly likely” to “potentially” die en route to a sanctuary.

The latest examination, performed in November, showed that Lucy has several respiratory issues.

Lindsey Galloway, executive director of the Edmonton Valley Zoo, said the condition means Lucy likely feels like she’s breathing through a straw when she breathes through her trunk.

“So she’s a mouth breather, which is just absolutely unusual for an elephant,” he said. “It causes other problems as well, because she has to control her breathing while she eats as well. But her condition appears to be worse. We took pictures, or rather the one vet took pictures, we compared that to 2016 and we found that the passageway is narrowing.

LISTEN BELOW: Edmonton Valley Zoo executive director Lindsey Galloway joins 630 CHED Mornings

She also has some issues with her molars. The report says they’re growing crooked and affecting the shape of her skull which affects her breathing. But, Galloway says, the risk of putting her under anesthetic to repair the teeth is that she likely won’t survive it and the surgery isn’t expected to make a drastic change to her condition.

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“So we have some tough choices, just like anyone with an elderly parent, we’ve got some tough choices ahead, but we hope that we have another 10 years with her and we’ll work hard to make her comfortable.”

According to Galloway, moving the elderly elephant would be “unethical.” Instead, the zoo plans to make changes to her enclosure and routine to make her as comfortable as possible.

The zoo reportedly plans on reaching out to outside experts who specialize in working with geriatric elephants to learn more about what could be done for Lucy.

“We want to look at international best practice so we make smart calls,” Galloway said. “But we’ve as a group, the elephant care management team here have been talking about this for several months.”

Lucy has received international attention over the last decade or so as more and more zoos move away from keeping elephants in captivity. Former game show host and animal advocate Bob Barker even paid a visit to Lucy in 2009.

Galloway said the zoo performs quality of life assessments on all of its elderly animals, including Lucy, and says if it comes to the point where euthanizing her is the most humane option, that’s a choice they’ll make if and when they come to it.


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