Your hometown zoo (still) does wrong by Lucky

Don Elroy, former advocacy director for Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation (and his reprehensivly long hair) explains concerns about Lucky's health at a recent dinner.

Greg Harman

Okay, we've told you all about Lucky the Asian elephant at the San Antonio Zoo, the effort to Free Lucky and release her to the Tennessee sanctuary, the fact the zoo has no longterm plan for the pachyderm that not so long ago was giving irritating tourists and locals alike “piggybacks” under Brackenridge's lofty canopy (see "we've told you," above).

Since our first story on Lucky ran, the Animal Care Services Advisory Board has written to the zoo to advocate for Lucky's release (See "Lucky's Charm").

Now, a recent article published in Science magazine confirms long-repeated and pretty well understood thought on elephants in captivity, chiefly that they live shorter, sadder lives than their wild counterparts.

Those of you who have seen Lucky doing that repetitive-motion thing (which Zoo Director McCucker likened to a dog waiting for the dinner bell, in our sit-down), will be interested to read this tidbit from the BBC on the Science article:

A separate study looking in detail at all the elephants in UK zoos has found significant health problems and evidence of widespread psychological distress.

Researchers from Bristol University studied 77 animals in 13 zoos and found that almost half of the elephants displayed abnormal behaviour.

This included repeatedly swaying the trunk, pacing backwards and forwards and retracing their steps over and over again.

"Some of the animals were born in the zoos and must have developed it there," said Chris Sherwin, from Bristol University's Department of Veterinary Science.

"It's possibly their way of coping with stress, but almost certainly indicates they're in an environment which is inappropriate for their needs. This is not behaviour you see in the wild."

The report says unless the animals' health and psychological suffering can be addressed, the ethics of keeping elephants in zoos must be questioned.

Taking their cue from the prominent report, In Defense of Animals released their "2008 Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants" on January 6. Guess who's topping the list? It's not a proud moment, SA.

From the IDA press release:

The San Antonio Zoo continues to hold its only surviving Asian elephant, the woefully misnamed Lucky, in solitary confinement since the death of her companion, Alport, in November 2007.

Elephants are intensely social animals who need companionship in order to thrive. Free-ranging elephants live in large matriarchal family groups in which females remain with their mothers for life. Unlucky Lucky has been alone for over a year, and without another Asian elephant since 2004.

The zoo refuses to do right by Lucky and send her to a sanctuary where she can live in a spacious, natural environment with others of her species, even though San Antonio's plan is to replace Lucky with African elephants.

Experience has shown that solitary elephants can turn into social butterflies in sanctuary settings, yet the San Antonio Zoo stubbornly continues to isolate Lucky in an outdated exhibit far too small to meet her natural needs.

The San Antonio Zoo can change this sad elephant's luck by moving her to a sanctuary without delay. This is the zoo's second appearance on IDA's Ten Worst Zoos list.

Will the renewed movement for release finally prompt our City leaders to intervene on Lucky's behalf?

Come on San Antonio. Where's your heart? At least "friend" her on Facebook, for goodness-networking's sake.


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