Feb. 20, 2013 - Issue #905: DOA No more - Trading in punk for politics
As a toddler she was moved from Sri Lanka—where she was orphaned as a baby—to Edmonton. Activists have been saying for years that 38-year-old Lucy the elephant should be moved to an elephant sanctuary in the United States. After three decades in Canada's north, she remains isolated from other elephants, has a small and unnatural enclosure in a cold climate and has numerous health problems including arthritis, respiratory and foot problems like swollen feet, abscesses and toenails lifting off.
The activists are right to want a second opinion to check out her health as the zoo claims the respiratory problem will cause her to die if moved. Zoocheck, a national animal protection charity, says two US elephant sanctuaries have offered to bring in vets to examine Lucy for free to see if it would be a safe move her, but the zoo will not let that happen. In November, CBC's The Fifth Estate reported that the zoo hired—as an outside opinion—James Oosterhuis who recommended Lucy stay put. He's the same man who said Alaska's Maggie the elephant could stay in Anchorage if changes were made to her enclosure despite nine other experts saying she needed to be moved. In the end Maggie was moved to a sanctuary and was fine.
Lucy's advocates chose Family Day to protest her captivity and blocked cars from entering Edmonton's Valley Zoo. The responses from most zoo-visitors interviewed that day seem naïve, saying things like Lucy should stay because it makes their children happy to see her and how annoyed they were at having to walk a bit further to enter the zoo that day. It's understandable that families wanted to spend a happy day looking at animals with their children, but sacrificing the happiness of an intelligent, sociable creature like Lucy so that she can be an attraction for youngsters isn't worth her pain.
At the very least, Lucy needs other Asian elephants to interact with, but a much better option is to let her roam free at an elephant sanctuary instead of a small enclosure. Zoocheck claims she spends 90 percent of her time shuffling around or standing in her enclosure and there is no vegetation for her to forage about in.
The city-owned zoo, however, says that when Lucy lived with other elephants in the past she did not form social bonds with them. For her first 12 years in Edmonton, Lucy was alone, except for two short breeding loans to the Calgary zoo, and then a baby African elephant was brought in and stayed until 2007. The zoo says she has lived around people for so long that she is able to meet her social needs with them. They are well-meaning but misguided. Having raised Lucy from childhood, it must be hard to imagine anyone else looking after her. But elephants are a money-making attraction for zoos, and people find a way of justifying anything that brings in the dough. V
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