What to do with an old elephant?

Lucy is 34 years old. But a zoo in Edmonton won’t let her retire.

What to do with an old elephant?Lucy the elephant is sick. The 34-year-old—the only elephant at Edmonton’s Valley Zoo—is arthritic and has an undiagnosed breathing problem.

But the city has refused to let her retire from public life, which has raised the ire of animal rights groups. Zoocheck and PETA are demanding that Lucy be sent to a sanctuary where she can live with other elephants, and are offering to shoulder the travel costs. If the city refuses, they have threatened to launch legal action, claiming Edmonton is in violation of the Alberta Animal Protection Act. 

According to high-profile Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby, who has been retained by the activists, Edmonton’s refusal to let Lucy go is all about money—she’s simply too big of an attraction. “[They’re saying] we’ve kept her into her old age, we made her ill, and now we’re not going to give her a retirement,” he argues.

Linda Cochrane, manager of community services for Edmonton, disagrees. “We have no hesitation to move animals when it’s in their best interest,” she says. Cochrane agrees that elephants should normally be kept in herds, but suggests this case is unique—Lucy is very happy and well adjusted, she says, adding that the Canada Association of Zoos and Aquariums has supported the decision to keep Lucy where she is.

Elephant expert Dr. James Oosterhuis, who was hired by the city to examine Lucy, agrees. “It would be unethical for any veterinarian to recommend moving her, and in fact it would be malpractice to sign a health certificate for her at this time,” he wrote in a letter to the zoo. “Her current respiratory problems preclude any thought of moving her and in fact it would be life-threatening for her to be placed under that kind of stress.”

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