The debate surrounding the Valley Zoo's lone elephant is back in the spotlight after the Toronto Zoo successfully transported its three elephants to a sanctuary in California last weekend.
A local animal-rights organization staged a protest Sunday at the west-end zoo to demand the city convene a panel of experts to examine Lucy the Asian elephant and reassess whether it's safe enough to move her. The group says elephants are social by nature and shouldn't be kept alone or live in a climate like Edmonton's.
"I'd like to ask city council to look to Toronto," said Stacie Leppky, a board member with Voice for Animals Humane Society. "Everyone in Canada is moving their elephants and they need to step up and do something," At the beginning of September, the Calgary Zoo transported its one male elephant to a zoo in Florida and plan to move its three female elephants to a zoo in Washington, D.C. this spring.City of Edmonton spokesman Jason Darrah said Lucy has respiratory problems that make it difficult for her to breathe when she's in stressful situations, and moving her would exacerbate that.
"Based on third-party scientific review and veterinary care, we have been advised that Lucy is well adjusted and has some manageable health issues, however moving her would cause her serious health risks and would likely kill her," Darrah said Sunday.
Those visiting the zoo Sunday morning had to walk past about 30 protesters to get inside and were reluctant to talk about the issue. Protesters stood by holding signs with slogans such as Nightmare at the Zoo, Free Lucy and Boo Hoo Zoo.
Visitor Jessica Hogan said she believes that at 38, Lucy is too old to be moved. "She has to stay where she is. She has too many health issues."
Hazel Roy, who attends the zoo regularly, pondered how the protesters would respond should Lucy die during transport.
"How would everyone here feel? Would they blame the zoo?" Tove Reece, executive director of Voice for Animals Humane Society, responded to Roy's comment by saying, "If that should happen, I would say life here is worse."
While the group does not want any harm to come to Lucy, it challenges the findings of Dr. James Oosterhuis, the elephant expert the city hired in 2009 and 2012, who determined that moving Lucy would be life-threatening.
"If a group of experts came in and said it's too dangerous to move her, we'd back off," Reece said. "We don't want to send her to a certain death."
Darrah said as part of the zoo's ongoing care of all animals, "we regularly bring in other experts ... to support our veterinarian with his work."
The Valley Zoo doesn't plan on housing any more elephants after Lucy.
In 2007, a 25-year-old African elephant living at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage was transferred to California after much debate.
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