Lucy’s Story: Exotic Animal Exploitation

For thousands of years, humans have exploited animals for their entertainment. Zoos are a leading example of this type of exploitation. Exotic animals are often taken from their native habitat, or a falsely advertised sanctuary and placed in zoos far from their country of origin. Zoos operate mainly to entertain humans and can have devastating effects on animals if they do not adapt to their new environment properly.

In one case, in particular, an Asian elephant named Lucy did not adapt well to her new environment in a zoo in Edmonton, Canada. Lucy was brought over from Sri Lanka when she was two years old. The Edmonton Valley Zoo is the most northern location that an Asian elephant has resided. As a result, this extreme change of environment has harmed Lucy’s health and well-being.[1]

Elephants are incredibly social creatures that love to wander and play with others. Lucy has lived alone for the past forty years in the Edmonton zoo. While she does have ample space to wander the zoo’s grounds, she is usually confined to a small enclosure for the majority of the year due to Edmonton’s cold climate. In the summer months, you will see Lucy outside, interacting with her keepers. However, in the winter months, which can start in November and last until April, Lucy has the option to either brave the sub-zero temperatures and wander, or stay in her small indoor enclosure.

As a result of being the most northern elephant in the world, Lucy has spawned major controversy among animal activists, her zookeepers, and other concerned citizens. The debate centers around whether Lucy should be moved to a warmer climate with other elephants with whom she can interact. Her keepers argue that this is all she has known her whole life and that moving her after forty years would cause her extreme stress. They explain that Lucy is very well socialized with the zookeepers and that she gets lots of mental stimulation each day through various games and activities. Likewise, they claim she is too sick to move, though they refuse to allow an unbiased outside veterinarian to confirm this.[2]

Animal activist groups and others argue that it is extremely cruel to keep an elephant without a companion in a harsh and cold climate like Edmonton, Canada. Advocacy groups hope to have Lucy relocated to a sanctuary in a warmer weather, where she can interact with other elephants. Advocates are fighting for an independent expert to evaluate Lucy’s health to determine if it would even be possible to move her.[3] Unfortunately, it turns out that “after an annual review of Lucy’s medical records, advocates are now questioning whether [Lucy] would survive being moved…”.[4]

In Canada, this issue was brought to court on behalf of Lucy. PETA and Zoocheck Canada, two animal activist groups, brought a lawsuit against the City of Edmonton. The lawsuit alleges that the City of Edmonton, the zoo’s owner, is not properly caring for Lucy and therefore breaking the law.[5] According to Julie Woodyer, the main issues that cause elephant deaths in captivity stem from foot and joint problems.[6] Also, these issues tend to develop when animals live on hard substrates and in cold climates.[7] The hope is to ensure the zoo does not get to renew its licence, a different tactic than an earlier court attempt to have Lucy relocated.[8] Unfortunately, the Alberta Court of Appeal dismissed the activists’ argument concluding that they did not have the legal ability to ask the court to review the zoo’s licence renewal.[9] One important takeaway from this case is the dissent, where one judge stated that animals must be afforded some form of legal standing if they are to be protected in any way.[10] Furthermore, the judge says that this decision sets a dangerous precedent for anyone who brings forward an animal or environmental issue if there is no personal interest involved in the matter.[11] This powerful dissent highlights the activists’ key point, that if they cannot get recourse for Lucy through the courts, how will her interests be protected at all.

In a more successful attempt in Canada relating to animals in captivity, whale and dolphin confinement was banned. The federal government passed bill S-203, which grandfathers cetaceans already in aquariums but makes it a criminal offence to capture wild cetaceans and breed them in captivity. The bill still allows for cetaceans to be rescued and rehabilitated. The success of bill S-203 had a lot to do with changing public opinion towards dolphins and whales in captivity. Many Canadians voiced their opinion supporting the bill by signing petitions in favour of the bill as sending letters to the federal government indicating their support.

To get involved in helping Lucy or other animals in captivity, you can likewise sign petitions or write to your local member of Parliament.[12] You can also write to the zoo at issue and highlight your concerns regarding a specific animal’s treatment. Another vital way to voice your concern for captive animals is to educate others. You can let others know your concerns about zoos and animals in captivity and discourage them from visiting these institutions.

[1] Kassam, Ashifa. “The World’s Coldest Elephant?Activists Demand Lucy’s Removal from Canadian Zoo.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 1 Mar. 2017,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Anderson, Amanda. “’Time Is Running out’: Advocates Say Lucy’s Health Deteriorating.” CTV News Edmonton,   CTV News, 27 June 2019,

[5] Paige Parsons, “Activists Take Lucy the Elephant Fight to Appeal Court, 8 March 2018, online: Edmonton Journal <>.

[6] Supra note 4.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Supra note 5.

[9] Tyler Dawson, “Advocates for Lucy the Elephant Fail to Convince Courts to Review her Confinement Conditions at Edmonton Zoo”, 28 May 2019, online: National Post <>.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] “Save Lucy”, online: Save Lucy, <>.