Lucy:Freeing an Edmonton Elephant

Title: Lucy:Freeing an Edmonton Elephant

There has been a lot of recent controversy regarding Lucy, the elephant at the Edmonton valley zoo. Lucy, was brought to the zoo as a one year old orphan in 1976. She had been kept with Samantha, an african elephant from 1989 till 2007. Samatha was then sent to a breeding program leaving Lucy alone.
Elephants are extremely social animals

Paul Rees, an animal welfare specialist based in Salford, says they thrive in large groups which mimic their natural family herd.

Keeping elephants alone or in smaller groups could deprive them of the company they need to develop normally, he warned.

The Salford University expert looked at the records of 200 zoos worldwide and found that the animals should ideally be kept in groups of seven or more.

The Coalition for Captive Elephant Well Being is a group of independent welfare-minded zoo professionals, scientists,
academics, veterinarians, animal behaviorists, animal law specialists, and animal
welfare advocates united in their efforts to articulate science-based best practices to
improve the care and well being of captive elephants.

Elephants shall enjoy self-directed social access to each other a majority of the
time, in the absence of health, safety or behavioral constraints or training
sessions (Rees 2001; AZA EMS 2003). Self-directed social access means
unrestricted (e.g. no chains and no barriers) physical contact for socially
integrated animals. Enrichment and environmental features should be
provided to encourage social behavior (Schulte 2000) that is cooperative as
well as competitive, such as feeding devices that require two animals
working together to access food, play devices that allow tug-of-war types of
interactions, and the like.
Cross-reference: “Optimal Care” 4.7, 4.19 and 4.20.
Note: Elephants are socially gregarious, intelligent animals, whose herd life is marked
by routine periods of intense socializing apparently aimed at herd cohesion.
“Elephants are very much contact animals. Family members often stand touching
while resting or drinking. They lean and rub their bodies together, and often touch
one another with their trunks in various contexts” (Estes 1991, 262). Herd members
engage in greeting ceremonies, play, play fighting, and synchronized moving,
bathing and resting (Moss 1988; Douglas-Hamilton 1975; Sukumar 2003).
Accordingly, it is important that elephant managers maximize opportunities for
elephants, particularly females, to engage freely in natural social behaviors in order
to promote socially competent animals (Rees 2001; Coe 2003).

Further health problems are created by inadequate exercise. Currently, Lucy gets walked around the zoo during good weather. She is allowed to graze on grass and tree branches. The Coalition recommends:

Outdoor exhibit space must be of sufficient size and complexity to achieve
the following performance goals:
a. Healthy elephants shall have sufficient space to travel a minimum of 10
km (7 miles) on a daily basis while engaged in natural behaviors like
foraging, feeding, exploring, socializing and the like (Seidensticker and
Doherty 1996; Hancocks 1996, 2002; Coe 2003). All elephants shall have
access to useable pasture year round and grassy pasture 6 months out of
every 12.
Note: Elephants are physically vigorous, non -territorial animals that move almost
continuously for 20 out of every 24 hours (Moss 1988). Sukumar (2003) calculates
that elephants range 10 to 20 km (7 to 13 miles) per day without regard to species
type. It follows that elephants must be given a space sufficient to meet their exercise
needs, minimize competition for resources, maximize opportunities for socializing or
refuge from socializing and maximize flexibility for caregivers to provide enrichment.

Clearly, the conditions that Lucy are kept in Edmonton is not ideal– there is not enough social interaction or perhaps enough environmental stimulation, especially during the cold winter months. Several [celebrities](CTV.ca | Lucy the elephant faces death in Edmonton: Barker) and authors have chimed in on trying to get Lucy moved to an elephant sanctuary. To date the [Valley Zoo has turned down the offer.}(http://www.cbc.ca/canada/edmonton/story/2008/12/11/edm-zoo-elephant.html)

Dr. Milton Ness gave the Edmonton Association of Small Animal Veterinarians a tour of the Valley Zoo. He gave the other side of the story.

  1. Lucy is walked twice daily in the zoo, if the weather permits. Lucy also gets physiotherapy.
  2. Lucy is very bonded to her human handlers. However, the handlers are not there 24 hours a day. Dr.Ness thought that Lucy seemed more oriented towards people than other elephants.
  3. Lucy has an impacted molar causing sinusitis. She often mouth breathes because of the phlegm. . For an animal as large as Lucy this is not good if she is stressed. The critics calling for Lucy’s relocation have not adequately addressed this concern. It is either of no consequence or the condition needs to be evaluated by an independent veterinarian. A stressed elephant will only get more stressed during a move, which will worsen the breathing and potentially be fatal.
  4. Lucy has a tendency to get stressed. Lucy had been involved with a breeding program at the Calgary Zoo.

Lucy was sent to the Calgary zoo on a 6 month breeding loan. She was sent back to Edmonton on April 23, 1987. Lucy was not impregnated. Then on September 16, 1987, Lucy was sent to Calgary on another breeding loan for 7 months. She was sent back to Edmonton on April 20, 1988, still not pregnant.
During the transport, Lucy had diarrhea. There was so much diarrhea that the chase vehicles had to have their wipers going constantly. This is an elephant that is prone to stress. Sedation is not the best option, because she mouth breathes and sedation will make breathing even more difficult.

I do not think that it will be a simple matter for the zoo to move Lucy. I think the best thing would be to improve her health first by extracting the impacted molar. This is not an easy thing to accomplish. Dr.Ness talked about being involved in a elephant molar extraction – there were 30 people involved in the surgery.
As for Lucy not being as social towards other elephants. I don’t know. Certainty it is possible. There are lots of people who don’t like interacting, so I don’t know if elephants would be any different. But, I wonder how this judgement was made. Was determined by how Lucy reacted with Samantha (an African elephant) or during her time in Calgary ?
Maggie, an elephant from the Alaskan zoo was sent to the PAWS sanctuary:

Before she moved to California, Maggie’s Alaska Zoo keepers worried about her aggressive personality, that she might not adjust well to other elephants. She had not seen another elephant since the 1997 death of her zoo companion, Annabelle.
The facility, 50 miles southeast of Sacramento, offers Maggie three companions and 75 acres to roam. It’s a stark contrast to what the Anchorage zoo could give her – cold weather, no companions and a concrete enclosure most of the winter.
A year into her new life roaming a California sanctuary with other elephants, Alaska’s favorite expat shows every sign of enjoying it. She trumpets, knocks down trees and calls for her companions when they wander too far, say her new keepers.

Lucy is an intelligent and highly social animal, kept in species isolation and in relatively small confines, especially in winter. It would only be right to send her to a home where she could interact and roam. Certainly, a zoo environment may potentially reduce and elephant’s longevity .

We analyzed data from over 4500 elephants to show that animals in European zoos have about half the median life span of conspecifics in protected populations in range countries. This discrepancy is clearest in Asian elephants; unlike African elephants in zoos, this species’ infant mortality is very high (for example, twice that seen in Burmese timber camps), and its adult survivorship in zoos has not improved significantly in recent years. One risk factor for Asian zoo elephants is being moved between institutions, with early removal from the mother tending to have additional adverse effects. Another risk factor is being born into a zoo rather than being imported from the wild, with poor adult survivorship in zoo-born Asians apparently being conferred prenatally or in early infancy. We suggest stress and/or obesity as likely causes of zoo elephants’ compromised survivorship.

Elephants in captivity just do not do as well

We analyzed data from over 4500 elephants to show that animals in European zoos have about half the median life span of conspecifics in protected populations in range countries. This discrepancy is clearest in Asian elephants; unlike African elephants in zoos, this species’ infant mortality is very high (for example, twice that seen in Burmese timber camps), and its adult survivorship in zoos has not improved significantly in recent years. One risk factor for Asian zoo elephants is being moved between institutions, with early removal from the mother tending to have additional adverse effects. Another risk factor is being born into a zoo rather than being imported from the wild, with poor adult survivorship in zoo-born Asians apparently being conferred prenatally or in early infancy. We suggest stress and/or obesity as likely causes of zoo elephants’ compromised survivorship.
I am not sure what the longevity is for elephants living in sanctuary conditions. But, clearly something is missing in our understanding of elephant management if survival is compromised in a “protected” environment. If our current understanding about the care of elephants is flawed, I think it would be best to try and recreate as much of their natural social structure and landscape as possible.

The great controversy about Lucy’s condition illustrates the arbitrariness of our sense of justice. It is a common practice in this society to severely restrict and socially isolate intelligent herd animals. Pigs are raised in deplorable conditions, especially the gestating sows.

…Gestation stalls [are] where where a sow is kept confined during her entire pregnancy. The sow can lie down and stand up, but she cannot turn around. Most commercial pigs are bored and lack stimulation, but sows locked up in sow stalls are in the worst condition….Possibly the worst aspect of sow stalls is that they starve the pig’s seeking system. A sow locked up inside a sow stall has nothing to do with her mind or her snout… . Seeking deficits also increase fear. Sows in stalls don’t have their social needs met…Pigs are social animals that don’t like being alone. In the wild pigs live in small groups and probably survive by hiding from predators. Pigs need to interact with other pigs and lying beside another sow in the next stall probably dose not satisfy stocila needs…When animals are kept in a box, breeders forget about breeding for important things such as strong feet and legs.

“Animals Make Us Human” Temple Grandin p 177-178

Society has designated pigs as food and elephants as intelligent wildlife and so the difference in treatment. But, this is about as arbitrary as the difference in skin color. A few decades ago, this was not so arbitrary difference, but it shows that society has the capacity to change, if only we erase the ignorance.

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One response to “Lucy:Freeing an Edmonton Elephant

  1. Pingback: Update to Lucy’s Story « Incredible Visions

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