Monday, February 1, 2010

The Battle Over Lucy the Elephant Continues

For quite some time now, there has been a battle raging over an Asian elephant named Lucy who resides at the Valley Zoo in Edmonton, Alberta. Lucy has suffered from a whole host of health issues and has often been quite ill. She also lives alone and in conditions that many animal rights advocates believe are substandard.

The organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is involved in a struggle to move Lucy to a more open sanctuary in a warmer climate. PETA has hired famed Toronto attorney Clayton Ruby to initiate a legal action against the city of Edmonton, claiming that Lucy lives in poor conditions in the zoo.

The case has been causing a lot of controversy. Bob Barker, former host of The Price is Right (pictured above with Lucy) even got in on the action, visiting Edmonton last September to ask zoo officials to let Lucy reside in a more open sanctuary.

Barker wasn't too thrilled with the outcome of his efforts. "The meeting went badly," he admitted. "The zoo is absolutely implacable. They won't consider even saying that when Lucy is feeling well that we can take her to the sanctuary."

PETA is launching its legal action against the zoo today. We'll see how it goes. A PETA press release reads:

Lucy's health issues--which include upper respiratory problems, arthritis, obesity, and chronic foot ailments--are the result of the substandard conditions at the Valley Zoo and are further aggravated by the region's frigid climate, which is ill-suited to an Asian elephant. Lucy has also been alone for the past two years, spends most of her time in a small barn, and exhibits behaviour that indicates severe psychological distress. Consultations with experts have convinced PETA and Zoocheck that Lucy's life is at risk in Edmonton, and no evidence has been presented to show that there is a greater than normal risk in moving her to a suitable sanctuary. Even Dr. James Oosterhuis, the Valley Zoo's own consultant, acknowledged that the zoo's indoor facilities fail to meet the industry's minimum standards. (Source)
It's impossible to say at this point how this case will turn out. Zoo officials say they're no longer allowing independent veterinarians to examine Lucy and they believe that if she's moved, the trauma of being uprooted will jeopardize her health.

Zoo veterinarian Dr. Milton Ness said:
To move her at the [limit] of her respiratory capacity, her ability to breathe . . . is tantamount to signing a certificate of her death. (Source)
Zoo and city officials have made it clear that they will not allow Lucy to be moved, so it looks like the matter is up to the courts to decide. Most observers concur that Lucy's poor health is at least partially due to neglect and poor treatment at the zoo.

It is difficult to take a stand on this issue in one direction or the other. Overall, I sympathize with the PETA position that Lucy should be moved to a warmer and healthier place. Lucy should not be living in substandard conditions. Yet it would be a tragedy if zoo officials are correct that Lucy would die as a result of being moved.

This case is simply a tragedy no matter how you look at it. One mantra that animal activists should be repeating over and over again is that animals are not our property to experiment on, transform into food or clothing, or use for entertainment purposes.

It's one thing to state this abolitionist view. But it's hard to know precisely what is best to help this one poor soul, a creature who happens to be one of the countless victims of a mindset, a culture, and a way of doing things that emphasizes that animals are ours to use and exploit as we please.

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