Supreme Court to decide whether to hear animal welfare case involving Lucy the elderly elephant

The Supreme Court of Canada will decide today whether it will hear a case that could affect the care of an ailing 44-year-old elephant named Lucy.

For years, Zoocheck Canada has raised concerns about Lucy, who has been housed at the Edmonton Valley Zoo since 1977. The group says the zoo is violating provincial standards by keeping her isolated from her own species and failing to provide her with a facility that meets her “biological and behavioural needs.”

The group has fought unsuccessfully for more than a decade to have Lucy moved to a wildlife sanctuary in a warmer climate. The Supreme Court already refused to hear a related case in 2012.

Zoocheck’s lawyer Stephen Panunto told CBC News that the legal push before the Supreme Court this time is to ensure that provincial zoo standards are enforced. The organization wants the province to impose conditions on the zoo’s permit to force compliance.

“What is at stake in this decision is whether qualified, interested animal advocacy groups can argue before the courts on behalf of a zoo animal, such as Lucy, to have animal protection laws enforced,” Panunto said.

“Unless the Supreme Court allows the opportunity to speak on behalf of Lucy, there is no reasonable and effective way to make sure that the legal protections afforded to Lucy, limited though they may be, are actually enforced.”

The Edmonton Valley Zoo has maintained Lucy is treated well and that she is continually monitored by in-house and outside veterinarians.

‘Charming and precocious’ elephant

Countering claims that Lucy should be with other elephants, the zoo has said she doesn’t know how to behave as part of a herd and that being around others would be very stressful for her.

On its website, Edmonton Valley Zoo calls Lucy a “charming and precocious Asian elephant” who was orphaned in Sri Lanka.

“Lucy is often called a ‘people elephant’ and her herd is her zoo family. She simply adores her caregivers who ensure that she’s happy and healthy,” the website reads.

Celebrity support

The fight over Lucy’s care has drawn celebrity attention over the years, with game show legend Bob Barker and prominent authors like Margaret Atwood speaking out in support of animal welfare groups.

Lucy has had problems with her feet, hips, teeth and respiratory system. The zoo has said transporting Lucy could kill her.

Julie Woodyer, campaigns director for Zoocheck, said that while the zoo could have moved her easily in past, her deteriorating health means it could be too late now.

“It is possible that the zoo has created a self-fulfilling prophecy by stalling so long that she may be too ill for transport, since her medical records now show that she is going down due to colic, a very dangerous situation for elephants,” she said. “However, even if it is too late to move her safely, there are still things they could do to improve her life.”

Woodyer suggested installing a heated therapeutic pool to soothe Lucy’s joints and building a shelter over her yard to allow her to exercise without walking over ice and snow.

Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice, said she is optimistic the Supreme Court will decide to hear the case.

“Lucy is a sick, lonely elephant who has been subjected to solitary confinement and frigid temperatures for far too long. The bold legal fight to send her to a sanctuary has spanned a decade, and the legal barriers she has faced are broadly symbolic of what every single animal across this country faces,” she said in an email.

Labchuck said many governments have enacted stronger laws for animal welfare in recent years to protect them from hardship and suffering. In Lucy’s case, advocates are simply asking for provincial laws to be enforced, she said.

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