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Lucy the elephant's health improves, still endures medical challenges and shouldn't travel: report


The health of the Edmonton Valley Zoo's resident pachyderm has improved in the last year but still endures medical challenges, evaluators said Wednesday in a report released by the city.

Two independent elephant veterinarians assessed Lucy in October, a year after they last examined her, and determined the 48-year-old is doing well despite health issues identified in 2022 that include hypoxemia and hypercapnia — low oxygen and high carbon dioxide levels in her blood and tissues — and a uterine tumour.

Dr. Frank Goeritz and Dr. Thomas Hildebrand re-evaluated Lucy’s general health condition and compare it to the results they reported last year when they examined her as part of a panel sponsored by the animal advocacy organization Free the Wild.

The doctors found the tumour, known as a leiomyoma — a common condition in elephants that haven't given birth — has regressed in size, likely due to a vaccine treatment prescribed to her last year. They also noted Lucy has lost 1,375 lb. over the last year, likely due to recommended changes in her diet, that her feet are in excellent condition and that her body condition has noticeably improved.

The veterinarians also performed a blood-gas test on Lucy which, like last year, showed she has severe hypoxemia and hypercapnia. Her respiratory condition prevents her from travelling, "neither for long nor for short distances," according to the report, adding that she should stay at the zoo.

"Aside from her ineligibility to travel, she is a geriatric patient and would not be able to cope with her new environment (unfamiliar habitat, new caretaker staff, and other elephants)," said the report. "Lucy is receiving a high level of affection and attention from her keepers and veterinarians, which resulted in a specific management and enrichment program adapted to Lucy’s age and health status. She would not survive independently from humans. Ultimate goal is to keep Lucy stimulated and engaged and to provide her with good care for the rest of her life (potentially 4-8 years?)."

Gary Dewar, director of the zoo, told CTV News Edmonton that even though it's "disappointing" Lucy still has health challenges and is unable to travel, "At least we know that some of her physical changes or health changes are making for a better quality of life for her."

"I think all of us deep down inside are holding hope that she'll be OK, that she could survive travel," Dewar said "If we could safely move her, we would move her, but that would be dependent on this respiratory issue improving, and while there's a little bit of improvement, unfortunately the independent experts have advised still that it's such a concern that there is that inherent risk that if we were to move her that she would likely die en route, so that for me is disappointing."

Dewar said contrary to what "many folks suggest ... that it's in our best interest to keep her here," that zoo staff "all want what's best for her."

"We understand that she would benefit from being in a warmer climate, that she would maybe benefit from being with other elephants," he said. "It's just unfortunately not possible."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson Top Stories

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