Lucy is a female Asian elephant, born in Sri Lanka in 1975. She came from Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage/elephant breeding center. Lucy arrived at Edmonton Valley Zoo (formerly known as Storyland Valley Zoo) at the age of 2. She was alone at the zoo for her first 12 years in Edmonton.
In 1989, in lieu of Lucy having a calf, Samantha, a 1 year old female African elephant, captured in Zimbabwe, was brought in for Lucy to mother. They are different species – but small zoos at the time liked to have one of each species, even though their behaviour and temperaments are different and they would never meet in the wild.
In 2007, Lucy’s companion Samantha, after 18 years of bonding, was sent away on a long-term breeding loan and has never returned. Lucy has remained alone ever since. In any case, today’s zoo standards and the zoo’s own plan preclude adding another elephant. The exhibit is too small and improvement costs would be very high.
Lucy being paraded around the zoo
shortly after arriving in Edmonton
Photo credit: Private donor
Lucy (L) and Samantha (R) sharing a moment
Photo Credit: Greg Southam / Edmonton Journal file photo
Lucy was born in the tropics but forced to live in freezing temperatures
Photo credit: Mary-Ann Holm
Lucy has suffered from many ailments, most brought about by zoo conditions. Respiratory and arthritis have been the most predominant (arthritis has never been recorded in wild elephants, only captive ones in zoos).
In 2010, Zoocheck, PETA and Edmonton resident & President of the Voice For Animals Humane Society named Tove Reece, all joined forces to file,a lawsuit on Lucy’s behalf. Although the case was not won, it was appealed to Alberta’s Supreme Court where 2 of the 3 justices decided against it. The judge in support of the appeal, Chief Justice Catherine Fraser wrote an insightful dissent which could be a turning point in animal welfare law in Canada. For the first time, a Canadian judge has treated an animal like the individual that she is, deserving of consideration, compassion, and protection. It was then appealed to Canada’s Supreme Court which refused to hear it.
During the early portion of 2015, a new local advocacy group, Lucy’s Edmonton Advocates’ Project (LEAP) was being formed to focus their efforts solely on Lucy and to educate citizens and politicians in an informative and friendly manner.
In late 2016, Zoocheck and Voice for Animals launched new legal action against the Alberta Government for allowing the ongoing violations to the Alberta Zoo standards. The violations include keeping Lucy alone and not in an appropriate social grouping as outlined in the AB Zoo Standards. In addition, Lucy’s enclosure size and public safety issues resulting from the Valley Zoo’s free contact management — which allows Lucy to be in close contact with zoo visitors — were also included. In December 2019, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the case - as per custom – did not give a reason.
While other advocacy groups have moved on, and seemingly forgotten about Lucy, LEAP still continues to fight on her behalf.
About Asian Elephants...
The Asian or Asiatic elephant (Elephas maximus) is the only living species of the genus Elephas and is distributed in Southeast Asia from India in the west to Borneo in the east. Asian elephants are the largest living land animals in Asia.
Since 1986, the Asian elephant has been listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, as the population has declined by at least 50 per cent over the last three elephant generations, which is about 60–75 years. It is primarily threatened by loss of habitat, habitat degradation, fragmentation and poaching. In 2019, the wild population was estimated at 48,323–51,680 individuals. Female captive elephants have lived beyond 60 years when kept in semi-natural surroundings, such as forest camps. In zoos, Asian elephants die at a much younger age; captive populations are declining due to a low birth and high death rate.
Demographic analysis of captive Asian elephants in North America indicates that the population is not self-sustaining. First year mortality is nearly 30 per cent, and fecundity is extremely low throughout the prime reproductive years. Data from North American and European regional studbooks from 1962 to 2006 were analysed for deviation of the birth and juvenile death sex ratio. Of 349 captive calves born, 142 died prematurely. They died within one month of birth, major causes being stillbirth and infanticide by either the calf's mother or by one of the exhibition mates. The sex ratio of stillbirths in Europe was found to have a tendency for excess of males.
Rescued Asian elephants at a sanctuary in Thailand
Elephant Nature Park
Photo credit: Gary Fadden