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Report says Lucy the Elephant not fit to travel; advocacy groups disagree

Independent medical assessment shows it's too risky to move the 47-year-old elephant.
A 2022 assessment of Lucy the elephant agrees she is not fit to travel, and so should remain at the Edmonton Valley Zoo. Photo: City of Edmonton

An independent assessment of Lucy, the 47-year-old Asian elephant, has revealed more complex medical concerns for the longtime resident of the Edmonton Valley Zoo.

In a statement, the City of Edmonton said Edmonton Valley Zoo and animal advocacy organization Free The Wild cooperated on an assessment of Lucy in October 2022. The assessment provided new insights into Lucy’s health and wellness, including medical information previously unknown, the statement said.

While the majority of visiting experts agreed with previous expert assessments that she is not fit to travel, they were not unanimous. Groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have advocated for Lucy's move in the past.

After reviewing the reports in extensive detail, a zoo spokesperson says, both the zoo and Free the Wild agree that Lucy is not fit to travel. She will remain at the Edmonton Valley Zoo where she has been cared for for more than 45 years.

“We have been working with Free the Wild for more than two years to make this assessment happen. The international experts have identified some important insights that have already resulted in improvements to Lucy's health and wellbeing,” said Edmonton Valley Zoo Director Gary Dewar. "Conclusions advised about the very high risk presented if she were to travel."

Among the new medical tests performed last fall was a blood gas analysis test, which showed that after minimal physical activity, Lucy had very severe hypoxemia and hypercapnia - which is low oxygen and high carbon dioxide levels in her blood and in her tissues. Two of the visiting veterinarians confirmed she breathes solely from her mouth, which they say is something they have never seen before.

Lucy's breathing issue is more serious than the visiting experts anticipated, zoo experts say, and a root cause of the condition remains undiagnosed. The experts also discovered a uterine tumour (leiomyoma) which is quite common in female elephants who have never given birth. The tumour is large and is being treated with a vaccine which the visiting veterinarians recommended. 

The assessment was performed by four international elephant veterinary and husbandry experts: Dr. Frank Goeritz, Dr. Thomas Hildebrandt, Dr. Patricia London, and Mr. Ingo Schmidinger. Several of their recommendations have been implemented, including changes to Lucy’s diet and medical treatments. Changes to Lucy’s diet in the four months since the assessment have resulted in a 326-kilogram weight loss.

Sagan Cowne, Trustee and Director of Communications for Free the Wild said, "What I’ve seen here is a very good baseline from which any zoo should look to (to care for) their animals.”

Lucy came to the zoo as a two-year-old orphan in 1977. Lucy's gradual retirement from public activities began in 2020, and the zoo says it will continue to monitor Lucy's weight and overall health, as well as looking at possible changes to her housing and routine.

“We are looking forward to having some of these experts return later this year to do follow-up examinations,” Dewar said. “We have and will continue to make adjustments necessary to provide Lucy with exceptional care.” 

An annual, independent assessment is required by Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) in order to maintain Lucy in Edmonton as a lone elephant. She has been assessed yearly by outside experts for more than a decade.

For years, animal rights groups have advocated for independent health reviews, and to move Lucy from the Edmonton Valley Zoo to an elephant sanctuary. In response to the Zoo's statement today, LEAP (Lucy's Edmonton Advocates' Project) said it 'strongly disagrees' with the announcement. 

"Only one of the three consulting reports states Lucy should remain in Edmonton," said LEAP president Mary-Ann Holm, saying reports from other experts indicate Lucy is able to be moved.

“We can say finally that with proper training, with her present zookeepers at her side every step on the way, she can be made ready for this journey (to a sanctuary)," she said. "The alternative is to spend the rest of her life in a place unfit for elephants."

For more information on Lucy, including links to the written veterinary assessment reports, a statement from Free the Wild, and a video, visit