Lucky's Name Has Been a Misnomer

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Lucky's Name Has Been a Misnomer

By Don Elroy
October 2008

Something in an animal's eyes can haunt you and draw you into its world, a world we seldom view the same way that they experience it. Loneliness, pain and understanding can sometimes all be combined inside one gaze. Such is the case with Lucky, an Asian elephant at the San Antonio Zoo.

If we could read her experiences through her eyes, she might convey to us the story of an extraordinary elephant life.

Wild elephants live in complex social structures with extended families, spending their time foraging for food, traveling 10-50 miles daily, interacting through intertwining trunks and social bonding. They swim, roll and play in mud holes and enjoy emotional interaction together.

Lucky has missed opportunities that make an elephant's life enjoyable. Born in Thailand in 1960, Lucky was taken from her mother and family at four months and sent across the ocean to Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. When elephants are captured from the wild, their mothers fight to protect them at all costs. Her mother and other adult elephants were likely killed to bring Lucky to the United States. Lucky was transferred in 1961 to a private facility in Texas. In 1962 she arrived at the San Antonio Zoo, where she has spent the last 46 years.

The zoo's elephant enclosure has no grass or trees and is compacted ground with some sand thrown into the mixture. A small pool of knee-deep, usually dirty water also doubles as her drinking source. Her only shade is provided by two umbrella-shaped structures in this small barren enclosure. She cannot position her entire body in the shade from one of these structures.

Captive elephants are subject to pododermatitis that leads to swelling and pain and arthritis from long periods of standing on hard surfaces. Foot problems are the largest killer of captive elephants. Her feet are routinely soaked in buckets and filed and rasped, made necessary by lack of walking space and the hard substrates she stands on daily. She favors her feet by constantly holding one up in the air or leaning to take the weight off.

Lucky frequently shows repetitive behaviors, which is normally a sign of stress and boredom associated with captivity. One afternoon, for 45 minutes, she repeated the same behaviors over and over.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums space standards for elephant enclosures are a minimum 1,800 square feet. In human weight comparison, it is equivalent to living in a 36 square-foot room.

Voice for Animals, Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation and Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force have joined in a campaign to send Lucky to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, after her companions Missy, Ginny and Alport all previously died in the San Antonio Zoo.

Where better than a sanctuary? Other zoos have placed elephants in sanctuaries. Lucky could have ponds, trees to knock over, mud holes and she could even step on grass for the first time in 48 years.

Join us in requesting the San Antonio Zoo send Lucky to a sanctuary.

Just maybe, what we then see in Lucky's eyes will be extraordinary.


Don Elroy is advocacy and education coordinator for Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation. Article originally published on My San Antonio.

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