The Problems

Inappropriate Climate

It's well-known that modern elephants have evolved to live in tropical and sub-tropical climates. So zoos located in colder regions of the world, like the Edmonton Valley Zoo, keep elephants indoors at certain times of the year. For some elephants, that can be a great deal of time.

According to the Valley Zoo, Lucy is typically kept inside her small barn when the outside temperature is below -10°C, as well as at night when the zoo staff go home. Based on a review of weather data from Environment Canada, Zoocheck estimates that Lucy is kept inside her barn as much as 76% of the time.

Nothing can be done about the winter weather in Edmonton. It just isn't suitable for elephants who aren't made for living in the cold. Keeping Lucy inside a lot of the time is boring and it almost certainly playing a role in her deteriorating health.

The American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) recommends that new exhibits give elephants access to the outdoors 24 hours a day. The Coalition for Captive Elephant Wellbeing recommends that as well. With winter weather and the Valley Zoo locking Lucy in at night, those recommendations certainly are not being met.

According to Kenyan elephant biologist Winnie Kiiru (2007): The climate in Edmonton is completely inappropriate for elephants. This cold climate, combined with the zoo's lock-in policy, results in the elephants being locked inside the barn for most of their lives and they are showing physical ailments as a result...I recommend that the City of Edmonton take immediate action to move Lucy and Samantha [Samantha was moved in 2007] to a sanctuary that can provide them with a more appropriate physical and social environment and to close the elephant exhibit at this zoo.

Lack of Space

Elephants have evolved to walk long distances. Their bodies, pillar-like legs and feet are built for movement over a wide variety of terrain and that's what elephants in the wild do. In fact, they typically spend up to 20 hours each day moving, foraging and exploring through home ranges measuring from hundreds to many thousands of square kilometers in size. Many elephants walk 10 to 20 km per day and some walk much further.

Unfortunately, most elephants in captivity can hardly walk anywhere at all, so they end up standing around most of the time. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association says an outdoor yard the size of nine parking lot spaces is enough for one elephant, but that's hardly any space at all. In fact, it's 60,000 times smaller than the smallest known home range for elephants in the wild.

At the Valley Zoo, Lucy's enclosure is approximately 0.5 acres (or 0.002 square kilometres) in size. That's tens of thousands of times smaller than the home range Lucy would have had in the wild. Her indoor space is close to 200,000 times smaller.

According to the Coalition for Captive Elephant Well-Being, elephants in captivity should have enough space to travel at least 10 km on a daily basis while engaged in natural behaviours like foraging, feeding, exploring, and socializing.

Elephants in captivity need very large enclosures that give them a variety of different ground surfaces, including clean dirt, mulch, sand and, probably most importantly, grassy areas and pasture, as well as slopes, hills, gullies, scrub and forest, so they can get enough exercise and mental stimulation. Lucy's enclosure is flat, barren and doesn't provide any of those things (although rubber mats have been installed in her interior area). A 2010 study found that Lucy didn't do much in her enclosure. With increased scrutiny and criticism, the zoo has since changed its management regime to keep Lucy more engaged and active, but it is still no replacement for better, more natural conditions.

No Elephant Family

Female elephants should never be kept alone. While mature male elephants in the wild may sometimes live semi-solitary lives, female elephants don't. They remain in the same family group their entire lives and are rarely, if ever, out of contact with their family members.

At the Valley Zoo, Lucy is kept alone. The zoo says her keepers are her family, that she has bonded with them and that it would be too stressful to be with other elephants. But her keepers are nothing like a real family or herd.

Think about it. Lucy's keepers at the Valley Zoo go home at the end of the day. And when they do, Lucy is left alone in her spartan indoor barn, until the next morning. Elephant families don’t disband in the evening and then reassemble the next morning. They're together all the time. Lucy’s keepers are nothing at all like a real elephant family.

As well, elephants communicate with each other through audible sounds, infrasound (sounds too low for humans to hear), subtle body postures, touching, chemical cues and seismic vibrations. The keepers can't do that.

Zoo associations around the world say female elephants should not be kept alone. The Coalition for Captive Elephant Wellbeing suggests a minimum of five Asian elephants be kept together in captivity. Scientists and field biologists tell us female elephants are never alone. Other zoos that said their elephants were not social have been proven wrong.

The Valley Zoo is wrong when they say Lucy isn't social and that the companionship provided by her keepers replaces a real elephant family. It doesn't. Even if they brought in another elephant, it would still be a very poor, unnatural life for both of them.

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