What All Elephants Need


In the wild, elephants inhabit very large home ranges and walk considerable distances almost every day. Their home ranges can be several hundred square kilometers all the way up to 5,000 square kilometers or more in size. That's a huge amount of space and it's hard to imagine.
To get an idea of how big a typical elephant range is, try to imagine a space that is  80 km (50 miles) long by 32 km (20 miles) wide. That's about 640,000 acres and it's a pretty big space.
Another way to envision it is to think about a typical elephant home range as a football field (including the end zones).  A typical zoo enclosure, like the one that Lucy is in, would be the size of two regular paperback books placed in the middle of the field and Lucy would be the size of an ant. Not very much space compared to the wild.
As well, an elephant's natural habitat is rich with natural wonders, surface features and varied sights, sounds and textures. It includes things like mountains, valleys, savanna grasslands, forests, rivers, meadows, lakes, swamps, etc. A typical zoo enclosure, however, is like a small, flat dot on that imaginary football field.*

Elephants are made for walking, foraging and exploring large spaces. They need room to roam through interesting natural environments in the company of other elephants. Lucy has none of those things.


In the wild, female elephants form families consisting of an older female elephant, her sisters, cousins, daughters, and their offspring. More than most other animals, elephant family ties are extremely important and they last a lifetime.

One big advantage of living in a proper social group is that it's more interesting than living alone. If you have family and friends to talk to, learn from, play with, find food, it's far more complex and stimulating than doing those things alone.

Comfort, security, knowledge, experience, learning, resource sharing and making life more interesting are just a few of the benefits of living in a normal social group. 

Individual elephants encounter many other elephants during their lifetimes and may know dozens or even hundreds of other individuals. For most of her life at the Valley Zoo, Lucy has been kept in social isolation, contrary to the Province of Alberta's own zoo standards.

Things to Do

Elephants spend the majority of each day moving about and foraging for food.  In fact, most elephants are active up to 18-20 hours every day. This keeps them fit and healthy by toning their muscles, increasing physical fitness and making them think and learn.

While exploration and acquiring food are vitally important activities, there are many others, including finding mates, solving problems, communicating and socializing with family and friends and playing, to name just a few.

Freedom of Choice

From the time elephants in the wild wake up until the time they go to sleep, they make decisions. Sometimes, those decisions are small ones, such as who do I play with, should I walk to the right or left of that rock or do I climb over or go under that branch. Other decisions are far more complex, such as deciding where to go to find food,  choosing a travel route that avoids unnecessary danger or knowing where the closest water holes are. Certainly, there are many movements and behaviours in elephants (and other animals) that are guided by instinct, but a great many are the direct result of decisions that animals make.

By making decisions, elephants are able to make a meaningful contribution to the quality of their own lives. Imagine what your life would be like if the decisions that you made everyday were restricted or eliminated. If you couldn't decide what to wear, when to eat, what to eat, where to go or who to talk to, life probably would be quite boring and frustrating. It's the same for most elephants in captivity. They don't want someone else telling them how to live and what to do all the time, but that's what most zoos do.

Freedom for elephants in captivity means that they must be given an opportunity to make choices, both small and large, so they have control over their own daily lives.