What is the picture that you see in your mind when you think of an elephant? For most of us, it is a large animal roaming free in the wild; not standing in a concrete cage.
The unfortunate reality for one elephant named Lucy is that she has been stuck in a box at the Edmonton Zoo in Canada for years, and she has been there all alone.
As you can imagine, this is nothing short of a cruel form of punishment for such a beautiful creature. It has also affected her health in a very negative way.
Elephants are found in tropical areas, wandering in large, open spaces. For Lucy, life was very different. She spends most of her time locked up and all alone. Her only joy in life is a tire that she uses as a toy.
Lucy is forced to spend her days watching strangers pass by her enclosed, glass cage and she has no elephant companions to share her time.
Her plight was discussed by Mary-Anne Holmes, the co-founder of the Lucy Edmonton Advocate’s Project (LEAP). She said:
“She spends her days alone in a glass cage where the walls are painted with artificial trees. The only trees she has access to are behind electric fencing, just out of reach.”
I’m sure we would all agree that this is no way for an elephant to live.
Lucy was only a calf when she was captured in Sri Lanka in 1977. She wouldn’t see another elephant for 12 years.
The zoo shipped in an African elephant (Samantha) for Lucy to ‘mother’ in 1989. Elephants are social, so this is a rather common practice.
Lucy and Samantha were able to spend 18 years together but in 2007, the zoo sent Samantha away to North Carolina on a ‘breeding contract’. Samantha was never sent back and Lucy has lived alone ever since.
Holmes talks more about the event:
“It was quite devastating for her to go from having a companion to suddenly being all alone again. There are many photos of the two standing right next to each other, and holding trunks together. But the Zoo claimed that Lucy didn’t like her, and she [Lucy] is actually an antisocial elephant who prefers humans.”
The claim that she is antisocial is just not true. Everything that scientists know about elephants points to the fact that they love being around other elephants.
The Defenders of Wildlife say that elephants need that tight-knit social structure in order to survive.
“Elephants form deep family bonds and live in tight matriarchal family groups of related females called a herd…When a calf is born, it is raised and protected by the whole matriarchal herd.”
Even though it is known that elephants need that social structure in their lives, many zoos still make them live solitary lives with poor living conditions.
As a result of the way Lucy has been forced to live, he health has begone to decline.
“She suffers from chronic arthritis, foot disease, obesity, stereotypy [repetitive, compulsive movements related to stress] and an undiagnosed respiratory condition. The first two are the biggest cause of the premature death of zoo elephants.”
LEAP has been fighting in Lucy’s corner since 2015. The problem is that the Edmonton Zoo and even local politicians are turning a blind eye to their efforts.
There have even been 2 lawsuits that have made it all the way to the Supreme Court since 2010, only to be denied.
The best thing for Lucy would be to send her to a sanctuary that is better suited to her needs. Letter her live in Canada, with the frigid winter temperatures is just not right.
Consider her natural environment. The average temperature in Sri Lanka is 80 degrees, but in Edmonton, it is 39 degrees.
“In the dead of winter, we’ll have a cold snap for weeks where Lucy will not see the light of day. Other times, she’s been taken outside for ‘walks’ in the snow. I have photos of her up to her knees in snow. With her arthritis and joint problems, I can’t imagine how painful that must be.”
Keeping a sick elephant in those conditions just doesn’t make sense. It is cruel.
That doesn’t take into account what she goes through when the weather is warmer. She is the main attraction at the zoo and is often taken on short walks on paved pathways for the benefit of the zoo visitors.
The hot pavement is not pleasant for those of us who wear shoes, but Lucy has to walk on it anyway.
Holmes describes a normal day for Lucy in the summer:
“They keep her on the path because they don’t want her to grab branches off the trees or do any damage to the lawn. On July 31, when it was in the 90s here, they had her walking on the asphalt and it was burning her feet.”
She doesn’t get a break in her cage either because visitors can just go in at any time.
Holmes is concerned that the poor management of Lucy will ultimately end in something much worse.
“There are women holding babies and toddlers running around, and all I can wonder is what would happen to Lucy if she lashed out one day. They [zoo and visitors] don’t seem to understand how dangerous and deadly elephants can be.”
The only way for Lucy to really get the help she needs is to have her moved to a sanctuary. Unfortunately, they hit walls in every direction, including from the public, who is not understanding of her needs.
LEAP is attempting to re-educate the public by holding frequent classes, seminars and demonstrations. They are trying to gain more support for their efforts.
You might be wondering why an ‘old’ elephant would need all of that care, considering that she doesn’t have much time left. As it turns out, at 43 years of age, Lucy is still young.
Holmes explains that zoo elephants are really the only ones that have a shorter lifespan.
“The zoo says Lucy is an old elephant, but she’s only ‘getting old’ by zoo standards. I’ve met one sanctuary elephant who is 89 years old, and numerous others in their 70s. By that stretch, she’s only middle-aged.”
They have been fighting an uphill battle but they are determined to have Lucy transferred to a sanctuary.
“Over the years we’ve been watching Lucy slowly decline and we’ve done almost everything we can to help her. But we won’t give up.”
We wish them the best in their efforts.