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Animal rights groups back in court for Lucy (March 30, 2011)

posted 30 Mar 2011, 13:04 by Rob Laidlaw
Zoocheck, PETA press on in mission to move Edmonton Zoo's beloved elephant
Gordon Kent, Edmonton Journal

Alberta Court of Appeal Chief Justice Catherine Fraser repeatedly questioned Tuesday why Lucy the elephant lives alone at the Valley Zoo in apparent breach of international standards.

“I have read a lot of expert evidence and can’t find one thing that says it’s good for an elephant to be kept by itself,” Fraser said during a hearing on whether to reinstate a case by activists who want Lucy moved.

Zoocheck Canada, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and Edmontonian Tove Reece are seeking to ship the zoo’s lone elephant, who is overweight and has health problems, to a U.S. sanctuary.

They want a declaration that she’s in distress in hopes of forcing the city to act, but a judge ruled last summer they don’t have the legal right to take the issue to court instead of going through Edmonton Humane Society investigators.

The issue now is in what way anybody could bring forward the argument Lucy is living alone in circumstances where the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums standards indicate it’s “inappropriate,” Fraser said.

“The point I’m struggling with here is I read this file and I see the elephant is being kept by herself. Her only companion (Samantha) was moved, apparently for breeding purposes, in 2007,” she said.

“It’s now 2011, four years have gone by, and Lucy the elephant is still by herself. On the face of it, it certainly appears to be something that should go forward to be dealt with on its merits.”

California veterinarian Dr. James Oosterhuis, who examined the 35-year-old animal in January, found a constriction in her trunk that makes breathing difficult and travel life-threatening.

The checkup was part of a humane society response to a complaint last fall. It told the zoo to assess her weight and respiratory ailment, as well as provide winter quarters with more exercise space by the end of the year.

But Fraser, who grilled city lawyer Steve Phipps and PETA lawyer Clayton Ruby during the four-hour hearing, wondered whether this was enough.

“How about it’s in Lucy’s best interest to be properly housed and sheltered?”

The three-member panel of judges will make its ruling at an unspecified later date.

Outside court, Ruby said Edmonton has continually “stonewalled” zoo standards by making changes to her enclosure, such as installing rubber mats in hopes of protecting her feet, while allowing her to stay alone.

“They keep fiddling with the little things, but the court is saying ‘what about the big, incontrovertible things?’ ”

However, Phipps said the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums permits Lucy to remain by herself because of her age, her long time in Edmonton, the potential harm from travel and other factors.

Factual issues about her situation should be determined by humane society officers, who could lay charges if necessary, and not in a civil court case, he said.

“It’s simplistic to say just because she’s alone, there must be a problem