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Lucy gets room to exercise in winter, activists aren’t impressed (February 13, 2012)

posted 13 Feb 2012, 09:39 by Rob Laidlaw

By Jeremy Jagodzinski

Life for Lucy the elephant is a bit better now that she’ll be exercising inside if it’s too cold outdoors, but those fighting to relocate her remain unsatisfied.

The Edmonton Valley Zoo had committed to improving upon the physical spaces available to its elephant before the new year in response to suggestions made by Edmonton’s Humane Society.

“On the rare days when the weather dictates she can’t walk around the grounds, like last week for instance, she does exercise in a climate controlled animal care structure,” said Debi Winwood, communications officer at the zoo in regards to mid-January’s plunge to -35 C.

“It’s new this winter and it responds to the Edmonton Humane Society’s recommendation to ensure that Lucy can exercise all year round.”

Only 100 metres behind Lucy’s pen, north of the Saito Interpretive Centre, the large grey oval structure is an open area 80 by 50 feet wide and stands 28 feet tall.

Features include insulated walls, a soft sand floor and a skylight to let in natural light. Because of its generic design, any animal can have their specific needs met to exercise despite low temperatures.

This means that cold weather will no longer prevent Lucy from taking the three walks she needs each day to help her lose the excess weight she carries.

The zoo has also refurbished Lucy’s smaller indoor home with thick matting for comfort and warmth as well as plenty of sand to lie on.

Nonetheless, such efforts make little difference to those who disapprove of the zoo’s guardianship of Lucy.

“There’s a number of things going against them,” said Gert Zagler, founder of the Friends of Lucy group. “Lucy’s originally from Sri Lanka and as the temperature falls quite low she can’t go outside. There’s a space issue: there just isn’t the terrain, the enrichment for her to thrive.”

Each side evaluates Lucy’s access to space and protection from cold differently because they disagree as to where Lucy should be housed during her later years.

“Lucy continues to do well,” said Winwood. “She’s 36 years old, so she’s content and well-adjusted and her health is stable.”

But just like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), which has been fighting the zoo in the courts, Zagler wants to have Lucy moved to a large elephant sanctuary in the U.S. to live with others of her kind.

“If an elephant is a herd animal and thrives in more temperate climates, how can you argue that California wouldn’t be a better place for Lucy?” said Zagler.

Another group called In Defense of Animals recently ranked the Valley Zoo the worst in North America in its annual list of the “10 Worst Zoos for Elephants.” Although it’s an unofficial list, results were based on lack of space, frigidity of the climate and the quality of living space.

The city disputes the criticism.

“The city of Edmonton takes great exception to the continued misinformation of the care Lucy receives at the Valley Zoo,” said Winwood. “She receives excellent care here and the Valley Zoo complies with all applicable regulatory and legislative standards.”

President of the Voice for Animals Humane Society in Edmonton and PETA’s co-plaintiff against the zoo, Tove Reece, says she’s as concerned for Lucy’s mental health as she is for her physical well-being.

“Some kind of tent or whatever they’ve set up down there is just not enough,” said Reece. “The thing is that in the summer she can go outside and walk around her enclosure, but she doesn’t do it, she just stands still… I just think she’s lonely and bored.”

This past fall, Reece, PETA and Zoocheck had petitioned the Supreme Court to review the decision made by the Court of Appeal to dismiss their case. But there’s no indication of how long they’ll be waiting on an answer.

In the meantime, Reece will continue her fight in other ways.

“We will probably keep up doing some protests,” said Reece. “But I’m hoping at some point we can approach the city councillors again to see if there’s anybody there who might be open [to help].”

For those wanting to know more about Lucy and how the Valley Zoo addresses her specific needs, the Edmonton Valley Zoo offers 20-minute “Elephant Talks” every Sunday until Feb. 26 and again on Saturdays and Sundays from March 3 to April 29 at 11 a.m.