The Elephant Nobody Forgets
The Globe and Mail
She's 41, weighs 4,000 kilos, and is at the centre of a bitter fight about the rights of captive animals in a dangerous world. Jana G. Pruden delves into the fraught world of Lucy, the Edmonton Zoo's greatest draw, and heftiest liability
Friday, July 15, 2016
The Globe and Mail
Jana G. Pruden
The elephant house is squat and made of concrete, with windows of bullet-proof glass and gates of heavy steel. Its design reflects the reality of securing animals so strong they can break through bars and fences, so smart and deft they can use their trunks to open latches and doors. The house is linked to three outdoor pens – a large enclosure for the Edmonton Valley Zoo, though some would argue still far too small for an elephant.
On a sunny Thursday afternoon, both the elephant house and its outdoor pens are empty. Packs of parents wheel strollers and follow stampeding children into the building to find only a desolate barn, then wheel out again, disappointed, into the sunshine.
“I haven’t seen her for the past three weeks,” one woman says, a little girl tugging on her hand.
A man with two small children calls to a zoo worker unloading a bale of hay from the back of a pickup truck. “Is the elephant coming back today?” he asks.
The worker shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says, then drives away.
A small crowd gathers at the display of black-tailed prairie dogs nearby, hoping maybe the elephant will return while they wait. The prairie dogs are important. They are a crucial part of the ecosystem in North America, and now nearly extinct, their population and habitat only 1 per cent of what it once was. The prairie dogs pop up on their hind legs; they pose and scurry. The crowd watches for a moment, then begins to break apart. The prairie dogs are cute, but they are not elephants. They are not Lucy.