Animal Rights Groups Sue Edmonton Over Ailing Elephant

EDMONTON — Two animal-rights groups filed a court application Monday claiming the City of Edmonton is breaching Alberta's Animal Protection Act by keeping Lucy the elephant ill, alone and in distress.

The long-threatened legal case by Zoocheck Canada and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is supported by affidavits from several experts, including former San Diego Zoo veterinarian Dr. Philip Ensley.

Ensley, now retired, says the 34-year-old Asian elephant is overweight and in distress, suffering from ailments including arthritis, respiratory and foot problems.

He's also concerned that she isn't living with other elephants, and that Edmonton's cold weather makes it hard for her to exercise properly at her home in the city's Valley Zoo.

"It is my opinion that the conditions and standard of care at the Valley Zoo are causing Lucy unnecessary distress and that these conditions are not in conformity with (zoo association) standards," said Ensley in his affidavit.

He based his conclusions on his experience in the field and a review of information about Lucy's condition, although he didn't personally examine her.

The decision to keep Lucy in Edmonton has been the subject of controversy, with animal rights groups enlisting celebrities such as Bob Barker and William Shatner to push for her transfer to an elephant sanctuary.

Last August, Shatner wrote a short letter to Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel pleading with him to let Lucy to spend her golden years in "better circumstances."

"Let me add my voice to the crescendo of voices asking for some relief in the fate of your beloved elephant, Lucy," Shatner wrote.

"In a way, it's none of our business — Edmonton can capably take care of its own. Yet, in a larger sense, these extraordinary animals are everybody's responsibility.

"So I humbly ask you to allow Lucy to retire to better circumstances than at the Edmonton Zoo . . . she's old, feeble, and many of us know how that feels. I hope you don't mind my intruding but the cause is just."

Barker, longtime host of The Price is Right, visited Lucy last September on behalf of animal rights groups in the U.S. He called on people around the world to "inundate" the Valley Zoo with requests to move Lucy to a California sanctuary.

"The zoo is absolutely implacable. They won't consider even saying that when Lucy is feeling well, we can take her to the sanctuary," he said.

In November, Lucy was put on a diet to lose 435 kilograms over a year, as part of a new treatment plan to create a healthier lifestyle that would help control her arthritis and breathing problems.

City lawyer Steve Phipps said officials are confident they're not violating the Animal Protection Act and will successfully defend any court action.

"Months ago, the city initiated a comprehensive health plan for Lucy . . . she has started her physiotherapy treatments and they're proceeding nicely," he said.

"She remains well-cared for, well-treated and in fairly constant companionship with her handlers at the zoo. Her condition is good and getting better."

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