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Elise Stolte: Lonely Lucy now on daily pain meds. But elephant impasse might also be cracking

posted 28 Jun 2019, 20:07 by Rob Laidlaw

But of course, nothing with the Lucy story is ever simple.

Edmonton Journal
Updated: June 26, 2019

Advocates with ZooCheck say Lucy the lonely elephant is now suffering so badly from joint and foot pain she’s on twice daily doses of pain medication and might not live out the year.

City officials disagree, but it’s the first time the international wildlife protection charity has been so pessimistic.

The group is now warning supporters that, even if it finally secures an independent medical assessment of Edmonton’s heaviest and most controversial mammal, Lucy likely won’t be able to travel. The dream of sending her to an elephant sanctuary is slipping out of reach.

“She’s in a palliative state,” said ZooCheck campaign manager Julie Woodyer on Tuesday, after posting the news to Facebook. “Her medical condition is worse. She’s now on a daily dose of (Tramadol) … perhaps won’t make it to the end of the year.”

But of course, nothing with the Lucy story is ever simple.

While ZooCheck is getting this from their annual review of the medical reports, city officials still say there’s no threat to Lucy’s life at all — just a respiratory condition that prevents her from being transported.

They say she’s getting twice a day doses of pain medication since 2016.

Once again, Edmonton residents are left in doubt and uncertainty. Who to believe? It’s more than a public relations nightmare.

But stay with me. Maybe, just maybe this is also a window for change.

There hasn’t been an easy answer for poor Lucy for years. In 1977, the Asian elephant came to Edmonton as a two-year-old orphan and bonded with her human caregivers more than other elephants. Her health has been poor. She’s obese and has arthritis, likely from walking in the cold and on hard surfaces, living in a small enclosure when she can’t go outside.

ZooCheck and other animal rights activists have been lobbying for the 43-year-old elephant to be sent to a wildlife sanctuary for more than a decade. Elephants are simply too social, intelligent and emotionally complex to be kept alone, especially this far north, and a sanctuary would have the space and expertise to care for her better.

But each time this comes up, city officials say Lucy’s respiratory condition, a blockage in her trunk, prevents her from being transported. Then ZooCheck accuses them of hiring an expert biased toward keeping the charismatic animal at the Edmonton Valley Zoo. City officials worry any expert ZooCheck recommends would bring the opposite bias.

It’s an impasse. But now we have a crack. We have both parties questioning if she’s able to move.

And there’s another player here. It’s not just global activists worried about Lucy. A home-grown coalition — Lucy’s Edmonton Advocates’ Project (LEAP) — has been building bridges with a new zoo administration.

Valley Zoo director Lindsey Galloway, on the job since April, met recently with LEAP president Mary-Ann Holm, which in itself was a first for any zoo official, Holm said. They agreed to work collaboratively to see if there are elephant experts they both have confidence in, and what sanctuary might be appropriate if Lucy is well enough to travel.

Galloway also told me about this meeting, and said he’s interested in getting a “fresh” perspective on Lucy’s health. He won’t limit his expert search to LEAP’s suggestions, but he’ll take them into account, he said.

If, after a full review this fall, it’s clear to both parties that Lucy should stay and age in place, Galloway says he’d appreciate LEAP’s ongoing involvement. Because then the zoo will need to seriously consider what a supportive local elephant seniors home should look like.

Holm seemed unsure about ZooCheck’s new doom and gloom. LEAP volunteers haven’t seen an obvious decrease in Lucy’s health, just the painful gait that grows slowly worse each year, she said. She urged people to “stay hopeful.”

If Lucy does have to stay, LEAP already has a suggestion. “Getting her a pool would be like hydro-therapy,” says Holm, sharing stories of how transformational that’s been at the elephant sanctuary in Thailand, where she volunteers. Getting a nice elephant Jacuzzi would take the weight off Lucy’s joints and finally let her swim.

I’m encouraged. I still don’t know what to believe about Lucy’s health but I do know cities can’t make a controversy go away by closing the door. If this meeting between the zoo and local advocates grows into a relationship of trust, that will be more progress than Edmonton has seen in years.