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Lucy’s Birthday Blues, 45 Years in Captivity

From IDA In Defense of Animals
July 2022

The below-freezing Canadan winters force Lucy to spend up to 18 hours a day indoors in a cement barn, isolated from any other of her species, and 'managed' with bullhooks.

Elephant Lucy

On July 1, 2022, the Edmonton Valley Zoo in Alberta will celebrate Canada Day with a birthday party for the zoo's solitary elephant Lucy. These are some of the fun events for kids: a scavenger hunt, learning to paint like Lucy, live music, and a chance to sing Happy Birthday to Lucy and nibble on a cupcake. But there is little enjoyment in store for Lucy who is now in her 45th year at the Edmonton Valley Zoo.

Lucy was born in 1975 in Sri Lanka, taken from an orphanage at 2 years old, and sold to the Edmonton Zoo by a German elephant trader for about $9,000. She arrived at her new residence in the freezing clime of northern Canada in 1977. Lucy was completely alone for her first 10 years at the zoo. Then she was shuttled to a zoo in Calgary where many unsuccessful attempts were made to breed her. In 1988 she was returned to the Edmonton zoo where she has remained to this day.

In 1989, the zoo imported another young elephant to be Lucy's companion. Samantha being an African elephant, was not a perfect match for Lucy, who is an Asian elephant, but the two had a bond of sorts, the only bond with any elephant Lucy experienced in captivity. But in 2007, 19-year-old Samantha was shipped off to a North Carolina zoo for breeding and never returned to Canada. Lucy never knew where her friend went and has been alone for the last 15 years.

The below-freezing winters that force Lucy to spend up to 18 hours a day indoors in a cement barn, isolation from any other of her species, and management in free contact with bullhooks is why Edmonton Valley Zoo has made In Defense of Animals’ Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants list 10 times. In 2021, it was named the number one worst zoo.

While the zoo celebrates Lucy's 47th birthday, animal advocates around the world, including Lucy's Edmonton Advocates Project (LEAP) anxiously wait for confirmation that she will be examined by an independent, non-zoo vet. The exam is to see if she is healthy enough for transport to an accredited sanctuary. Lucy endures chronic health problems from her decades in a zoo situated in a country that is far from her subtropic home. Her many conditions include arthritis, foot disease, and severe respiratory illness. If she is fortunate enough to be deemed strong enough for transport, it is still uncertain whether the zoo will grant permission to move her to a sanctuary. However, the exam is a vital first step and one Lucy's supporters have been pushing the zoo to take for years.

We are keeping our fingers crossed for a positive health test and agreement from the zoo to let her go so that one day soon, Lucy may at long last enjoy her twilight years in a serene, warm and spacious sanctuary. But whatever happens, Lucy's story should be shared far and wide, so that the lessons of her suffering may not go unheeded, and instead usher in the end of the cruel confinement of these magnificent, empathetic, and intelligent beings.

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