Lucy, the Asian elephant, had lived a lonely life at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, Alberta, Canada.
She has had the same routine for over a decade now. She stands all day long in her concrete enclosure behind a glass wall with nothing but a hanging tire for her to play with. She watches her visitors pass her slowly. She does not have the privilege to pool or mud bath for playing. She has also not seen anyone of her species for 11 years now.
The co-founder if Lucy’s Edmonton Advocates’ Project (LEAP), 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.”
43-year-old Lucy was taken to the zoo from the forests back in 1977 when she was just a calf. She had been alone for many years. But, after that, the zookeepers brought another young African elephant in 1989 named Samantha.
After sharing the same enclosure for 18 years and keeping each other company, the pair was separated, as the zookeepers sent Samantha to a breeding load in North Carolina. Lucy never got to see her again.
“It was quite devastating for her to go from having a companion, to suddenly being all alone again,” Holm said. “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 that she [Lucy] is actually an antisocial elephant who prefers humans.”
Elephants are known to be social animals who develop deep connections with fellow elephants. However, zoo-keepers still force them to live an isolated life, knowing that they are mentally very much affected by it.
Not only loneliness, but Lucy also has many health problems, according to Holm.
She said, “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.”
The zoo management and the public officials have been continuously getting requests from LEAP to send her to a sanctuary. However, they ignore everything even though they have the power to arrange a good life for her.
Two American sanctuaries have already agreed to take Lucy in, and celebrity Bob Barker even has offered to sponsor her travel costs.
Lucy also has respiratory problems because of which travelling can be challenging for her. But Dr Phillip Ensley, an elephant expert and veterinarian said this problem could be solved if she lived in warmer weather.
The Asian elephants naturally live in a tropical climate with up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year. However, Alberta has frigid winters in which the temperatures can drop to -40 degrees.
“Dr Ensley has stated our climate is likely the cause of her respiratory issues,” Holm said. “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.”
Lucy is sometimes allowed to walk on the asphalt paths, the same on which the visitors walk, but not without a keeper with a sharp tool called bullhook to keep her from straying in the lawns.
“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,” Holm said. “On July 31, when it was in the 90s here, they had her walking on the asphalt, and it was burning her feet.”
Visitors can also pay to visit her inside her enclosure.
“There’s women holding babies and toddlers running around, and all I can wonder is what would happen to Lucy if she lashed out one day,” Holm said. “They [zoo and visitors] don’t seem to understand how dangerous and deadly elephants can be.”
Even the locals don’t see any problem with the living conditions of Lucy. However, Holm and the LEAP team is trying to spread awareness about it so they could later understand where Lucy should be. LEAP hopes getting community support can help them put Lucy in a sanctuary.
“The zoo says Lucy is an old elephant, but she’s only ‘getting old’ by zoo standards,” Holm said. “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.”
Even though she does not have local support at present, Holm believes that Lucy deserves to be in a sanctuary, so she will keep trying to take her there.
“Over the years we’ve been watching Lucy slowly decline, and we’ve done almost everything we can to help her,” Holm said. “But we won’t give up.”
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