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And They Call It Love (September 20, 2009)

posted 26 Aug 2010, 10:46 by Bhavi Aloysious   [ updated 26 Aug 2010, 10:56 ]

Opinion Commentary

By: Debi Zimmerman D.V.M.


(September 20, 2009) - In over 20 years as a veterinarian, I have never seen such a closed-minded, self-interested cast of characters than our own Edmonton representatives speaking about the Valley Zoo’s Lucy the elephant.

They regurgitate the same old rhetoric, which goes something like, “We love Lucy more than anyone else ever could, therefore we cannot possibly be doing anything wrong” and “Humans are all she knows and so she is better off here.” These entirely nonsensical statements come from people who seem to have scant knowledge about what an elephant truly needs and who, it could be argued, have a vested interest in keeping Lucy in Edmonton.

On the other hand, we have Bob Barker and his team of world-class experts in animal welfare and elephant biology and behaviour, all volunteering their own time, and traveling on their own dime from as far away as Norway. They come to Edmonton wanting to educate people about elephant lifestyles and social needs. These people, like the local animal welfare advocates, are motivated by the sheer desire to see that an animal’s suffering is ameliorated, and to ensure they receive the best care available.

In Lucy’s case, they feel that a panel of truly independent experts review her health status and then, when appropriate, her subsequent transfer to an elephant sanctuary, is what is in Lucy’s best interest. They contend that at a sanctuary she won’t just survive as a mere shell of an elephant, but thrive. Despite there being no monetary gain and having no vested interest in Lucy, the concerns of these experts and advocates were totally dismissed. All reason, logic and compassion escaped City Council members and Valley Zoo representatives.

Elephants did not uniquely evolve over 62 million years to become our playthings that we can shut in a barn for the odd time we want to gawk at them during a family outing on Mother’s Day. There is this pervasive sense of entitlement in our western culture that we should be able to pluck an elephant, tiger or lion out of the wild, and plunk them into our backyard so that we can admire them as we please.

Does our society not feel that next to the death penalty, incarceration is the worst punishment we can assign to humans. Why is it that despite prisoners being provided with all of their basic needs, such as food, water, shelter, interaction with other humans and entertainment, they still feel deprived? They suffer because their freedom of choice has been taken away. And what can make it even worse for any social being, including humans, is placing them in solitary confinement.

Lucy is essentially our prisoner. She is told when to eat, what to eat, where to sleep, when to sleep, where to walk and how fast, who she can interact with and when. Add to this, deprivation of any contact with elephants for the first 12 years of her life in Edmonton and again since 2007.

Lucy bonded to her keepers not because she prefers people to elephants, but because she had no choice. Elephants are social beasts, and like humans, they have an innate need to bond with something. The character Tom Hanks portrayed in Castaway clearly demonstrated this phenomenon by bonding strongly to a volleyball and even mourning its loss. People bond with animals, dolls, even “pet rocks”, but it does not does not mean that given a choice, humans would choose balls and rocks over their own kind.

Elephants are born into large highly organized social family units, and are in each other’s constant company, day and night. Female elephants stay with their maternal herds for life. Intermittent human interaction during business hours at a zoo can never compare to the intense social connections and communications elephants have in their natural family groups.

Edmontonians are subjecting this highly intelligent and sentient wild animal to solitary confinement (again), in a cold inhospitable climate, causing her to suffer prematurely with arthritis, since the tender age of just 14 years. She is subjected to cold, hard surfaces and her movement is limited causing pressure sores and abscesses not experienced by elephants in the wild. Her intelligent mind is deprived of adequate mental stimulation and overfeeding and lack of exercise has brought her to the point where she is thousands of pounds overweight. Lucy is sentenced to a miserable life and, in all likelihood, a premature death, and the City of Edmonton and the Valley Zoo have the audacity to call that love.


Dr. Debi Zimmermann

B.Sc. (Zoology), D.V. M.

Edmonton, Alberta

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