Independent assessment of Lucy the elephant reveals ‘new medical information’: City of Edmonton

Edmonton Valley Zoo and animal advocacy organization Free The Wild cooperated on an independent assessment of Lucy, the 47-year-old Asian elephant.

The October 2022 assessment revealed medical information about the animal that was previously unknown, the city said Tuesday, while releasing the results publicly.

The medical assessments took place over three days at the zoo and a number of follow-up tests in the months after.

Read more: Animal rights group calls for independent health review of Edmonton’s Lucy the elephant

Four international experts found that Lucy has very severe hypoxemia and hypercapnia — low oxygen and high carbon dioxide levels in her blood and tissues — and two of the visiting veterinarians found she breaths solely through her mouth, which they say they’ve never seen before.

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The city said Lucy’s breathing issue is “more serious than the visiting experts anticipated” and “unfortunately the root cause of the condition remains undiagnosed.”

Free The Wild said that because of her breathing issue, the experts could not sedate Lucy during the assessment because it could “easily cease her breathing.” This also limited the types of tests that could be done, the animal organization said in a news release.

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It was also discovered that she has a uterine tumour (leiomyoma), which the city said is quite common in female elephants who have never given birth. The tumour is large and is being treated with a vaccine recommended by the visiting veterinarians.

The assessment was performed by four international elephant veterinary and husbandry experts: Dr. Frank Goeritz, Dr. Thomas Hildebrandt, Dr. Patricia London and Mr. Ingo Schmidinger.

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Read more: Jane Goodall reverses stance, says Lucy the elephant should stay in Edmonton

“While the majority of visiting experts agreed with previous expert assessments that she is not fit to travel, they were not unanimous,” the city said in a news release Tuesday.

However, after reviewing the reports, both the zoo and Free The Wild agreed that Lucy is not fit to travel “due to the uncertainties regarding her severe breathing impairment” and will remain at the Edmonton Valley Zoo.

“Conclusions from some of the visiting experts confirm what previous independent experts have advised about the very high risk presented if she were to travel,” zoo director Gary Dewar said. “Over the past 45 years, staff at the Edmonton Valley Zoo have worked tirelessly to give Lucy the best care and best home she deserves. We will strive to ensure she continues to receive excellent care.”

Lucy the Asian elephant at the Edmonton Valley Zoo. Provided: City of Edmonton

“Whilst the reports were not unanimous, it is the overarching recommendation of Free The Wild and the professional panel that Lucy remains in place until evident improvements to her overall health and breathing are recorded,” the group said in its news release.

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“However, to ensure Lucy’s well-being, the panel has made it clear that several significant changes need to be made to her facilities and the way she is cared for by zoo staff.”

The recommendations include:

  • Providing additional space and freedoms for Lucy to roam at her leisure;
  • Fresh water for bathing and wallowing;
  • Air quality checks with the implementation of air filtration systems to ensure she breathes clean, microbe-free air;
  • Changes to Lucy’s diet to help her lose weight, as being overweight can impact her joints and long-term livelihood;
  • Move to a protected contact management system to increase her autonomy.

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Free The Wild said the Edmonton Valley Zoo has been made aware of these recommendations and it is confident they will be implemented. The organization and several panelists will work with the zoo in the following months to monitor progress, Free The Wild said.

“Lucy’s case is a unique one and we appreciate the cooperation of Edmonton Valley Zoo in working with us to provide her with the best possible care,” Free The Wild co-founder Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne said.

“We believe these changes will improve her health and overall well-being and are committed to monitoring her progress in the coming months.”

Read more: Latest examination recommends Lucy stay at Edmonton Valley Zoo

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The city said several of the panel’s recommendations have been implemented, including changes to Lucy’s diet and medical treatments. The elephant has already lost 326 kilograms, the city said.

“I’ve travelled the world and I’ve been to many zoos and sanctuaries and circuses across the globe,” said Sagan Cowne, trustee and director of communications for Free the Wild. “What I’ve seen here in terms of commitment from the zoo staff is extraordinary. It’s definitely a very good baseline from which any zoo should look to (to care for) their animals.”

Lucy came to the zoo as a two-year-old orphan in 1977.

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The city says the zoo will continue to monitor Lucy’s weight and overall health, as well as look at possible changes to her housing, enrichments and routines.

“We are happy to have medical insights we didn’t have before,” Dewar said. “We are looking forward to having some of these experts return later this year to do follow-up examinations.”

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An annual, independent assessment is required by Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) in order to maintain Lucy in Edmonton as a lone elephant. She has been assessed yearly by outside experts for more than a decade, the city said.

To read the latest (and previous) medical assessments of Lucy the elephant, click here.

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