San Antonio Zoo Fighting To Keep ‘Lucky’ The Elephant

The San Antonio Zoo is the new target of an animal rights activists petition — and a federal lawsuit — over Lucky, their lone Asian elephant. The group filing the petition, P.E.T.A., asserts that Lucky has been living a life with no other elephants for company for over two years. Solitude is unnatural for elephants, who live in close-knit family groups in the wild. The petition is just the latest news under a barrage of protests about Lucky.

San Antonio Zoo is being sued by the Animal Legal Defense Fund over its treatment of Lucky, for violating the Endangered Species Act. The ALDF reported that the lawsuit listed two violations.

1. Inadequate shelter

Elephants are susceptible to overheating, and their skin is sensitive to strong sun. The pool available to Lucky is too shallow to allow her to submerge and cool herself. After receiving ALDF’s intent-to-sue notice, the Zoo planted a few trees, but Lucky took them down by using them as scratching posts and playing with them, and the zoo never replaced or maintained them.

2. Inappropriate substrate:

The exhibit floor where Lucky lives consists of a thin layer of sand compacted on a hard undersurface of limestone—contributing to Lucky’s abnormal gait and her probable arthritis and joint calcification. Spending hours every day standing on such an unyielding surface will worsen Lucky’s medical conditions and could lead to osteomyelitis (terminal bone disease).

At the end of January, the San Antonio Currant reported that a Federal Judge denied San Antonio Zoo’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Judge Xavier Rodriguez ruled that the lawsuit can proceed.

“Plaintiffs plainly and clearly allege facts that state that the Zoo has deprived Lucky of companionship with other Asian elephants; has kept her in a small enclosure with virtually no shelter from the sun; and Lucky walks on a hard, unnatural, species-inappropriate substrate. These allegations could constitute a ‘harm,’ i.e. any act that ‘significantly impair[s] essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding or sheltering.’ “

Toni Frohoff, Ph.D., elephant scientist for In Defense of Animals, was interviewed by Esquire. “Evidence shows that elephants are not thriving or self-sustaining in zoos.”

Frohoff added the following.

“… we have three elephants who are completely alone, with no other elephants even in sight. That’s in Edmonton, Canada. There’s the case of Asha at a roadside zoo in Virginia, and Lucky, who a lot of people know about, in San Antonio. The AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and other organizations recommend at least three, if not more, compatible elephants to be housed together. So clearly they’re not even coming close to approaching that most vital of all elephant needs.”

San Antonio Zoo has defended its position in an open letter signed by Tim Morrow CEO and Executive Director, entitled, “We Love Lucky.” It states that Lucky, being 55 years old, could be considered geriatric and might be bullied by other elephants.

“We have seen in the past that a perfect companion on paper does not a perfect companion in reality and we do not want to put Lucky in a situation where she is once again uncomfortable in her habitat due to a new companion.”

Frohoff, in theory, agrees with this.

“…To take two elephants who may not even speak the same language, just because they’re the same species from two different areas—I say ‘speak the same language’—let alone get along reasonably well, is hard enough. But to put them in a tiny, cramped exhibit and expect them to get along shows an appalling lack of knowledge about elephant sociality.”

The zoo explained that transport to a sanctuary would be very hard on Lucky at her advanced age. Beyond that, when she arrived, she would have the hierarchy of a strange herd to deal with. Zoo officials are concerned that she might not survive the stress. While her current situation is not ideal, they assert that she is bonded to her human keepers and probably best left to live out her days where she is.

San Antonio Zoo has been Lucky’s home for the majority of her long life. The elephant was taken from the wild when she was 2-years-old. Frohoff compared the capture of wild elephants to that of orcas and dolphins, being that all are free-ranging family groups covering vast amounts of territory during their lifetime.

Besides being slaughtered by trophy hunters or killed for their ivory, elephants are captured as babies and transported to zoos, to replace others that die off. Elephants don’t reproduce well in captivity. Frohoff said that the plight of wild elephants runs parallel to the whales and dolphins described in a report by the Inquisitr, as highlighted in the movies Blackfish or The Cove.

Frohoff said that the good news is the general public is becoming more knowledgeable about what wild animals need.

“I’d really like to emphasize, not only because I’m a scientist, is that the media likes to marginalize this as an animal rights or extremist issue, and it’s really not. It’s just become a matter of knowledge about these animals and respect for their need as wild animals, and really going on empirically based recommendations for their well-being. It’s just a matter of being humane. When we know better, hopefully we do better.”

[Image via Kagai19927/Shutterstock]