Edmonton zoo says 47-year-old elephant Lucy too sick to be moved

Animal rights group Free the Wild is no longer recommending Lucy the elephant be moved from the Edmonton Valley Zoo, after an independent panel of vets looked over the solitary animal last fall. As Carly Robinson reports, the decision was not unanimous.

By News Staff and The Canadian Press

Lucy the elephant is staying put.

The Edmonton Valley Zoo says the 47-year-old Asian elephant is unfit to travel, citing most visiting experts.

Animal rights groups and some high-profile celebrities – including British comedian Ricky Gervais – have protested for years that Lucy should be moved to a sanctuary.

On Tuesday, zoo officials said Lucy is to remain at the zoo where she has been living for more than 45 years.

The Edmonton zoo says it came to the decision after working closely with animal advocacy group “Free the Wild” since October 2022.

The Edmonton Valley Zoo says Lucy has a severe condition of low oxygen and high carbon dioxide levels in her blood and tissues, which makes her breathe solely from her mouth.

“Lucy’s breathing issue is more serious than the visiting experts anticipated, as quantified by blood gas analysis, and unfortunately the root cause of the condition remains undiagnosed,” the City of Edmonton said in a release.

Lucy the elephant at the Edmonton Valley Zoo on March 21, 2023. (Credit: CityNews/Carly Robinson)

Dr. Marie-Josee Limoges, a veterinarian at Edmonton Valley Zoo’s, says “the problem is, because she is a mouth breather. When she looses that conscious control over her body, she can’t oxygenate her body.”

Experts also discovered a uterine tumour that is common in female elephants that have never given birth.

The City of Edmonton did acknowledge not all experts agreed keeping her at the zoo was the best decision.

“While the majority of visiting experts agreed with previous expert assessments that she is not fit to travel, they were not unanimous,” the city said in a release.

“Conclusions from some of the visiting experts confirm what previous independent experts have advised about the very high risk presented if she were to travel,” added Edmonton Valley Zoo director Gary Dewar. “Over the past 45 years, staff at the Edmonton Valley Zoo have worked tirelessly to give Lucy the best care and best home she deserves. We will strive to ensure she continues to receive excellent care.”

An expert who disagreed with the decision to keep Lucy in Edmonton was an elephant specialist who has worked alongside other wildlife veterinarians.

“It is my opinion that it is possible to move Lucy and I do believe she should be moved for her health and welfare,” said Dr. Trish London. “The health issues do not prevent her from being transported to a different, more appropriate environment. I witnessed no evidence of respiratory distress during any part of our exams and/or testing or walking around the zoo with her.”

London’s position was echoed by the group Lucy’s Edmonton Advocates’ Project (LEAP).

“We can say finally that with proper training, with her present zookeepers at her side every step on the way, she can be made ready for this journey,” said LEAP president Mary-Ann Holm. “The alternative is to spend the rest of her life in a place unfit for elephants.”

WATCH: Lucy the elephant’s health assessment in 2022

Vocal opposition from PETA, celebrities  

In 2009, former “The Price is Right” game show host Bob Barker reportedly campaigned to have Lucy sent to a sanctuary in San Andreas, Calif.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) turned to the legal system in Canada to move Lucy to a sanctuary in the United States.

In 2012, PETA took the case to the Supreme Court, where the application was dismissed.

The debate surrounding Lucy’s well-being grew in recent years.

In 2021 the Jane Goodall Institute, which previously advocated for Lucy to be moved to a sanctuary, reversed its decision after speaking to veterinarians.

And just last year, Gervais and musician Moby called Edmonton Valley Zoo the worst zoo in North America, accusing them of being a “frozen elephant prison.”

Lucy is the only elephant at the Edmonton Valley Zoo – an Asian elephant that was kept with an African elephant. She entered the care of the Edmonton zoo in 1977, when she was two years old.

“Over the years, the zoo has modified its care plan to meet Lucy’s changing needs,” the city’s statement continued. “Her gradual retirement from public activities began in 2020, and the zoo will continue to evolve its elephant management program to accommodate Lucy’s needs as she ages.

“Going forward, the zoo will continue to monitor Lucy’s weight and overall health, as well as look at possible changes to her housing, enrichments, and routines.”

—With files from Carly Robinson

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