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Lucy is an Asian elephant who has been living at Edmonton Valley Zoo since 1977 after being transferred from Sri Lanka at the age of two.


As an Asian elephant, the Arctic climate in Edmonton presents additional challenges to her well-being and, over the course of her long life at the zoo, she has developed and overcome a range of ailments, yet continues to suffer from a unique and severe breathing impairment. She breathes primarily through her mouth, which is incredibly rare and something that many experts have never seen before, making sedation and certain tests difficult as she consciously controls her own breathing.


Free The Wild has recently collaborated with the zoo to find the most appropriate long-term solutions for Lucy's care. The results of this assessment, detailing recommendations and proposed improvements from four of the world's leading elephant experts, can be found at the bottom of the page. Please scroll down, use the "Latest Update" button above, or click here to read on.

UPDATE: 4 MAR 2021

Recently, Free the Wild sent a letter from our co-founder Cher to Mayor Don Iveson and the Director or Edmonton Valley Zoo, Gary Dewar. We offered to send an independent elephant expert vet to examine Lucy and determine the genuine status of her health.  After some subsequent correspondence between FTW’s co-founder Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne and the Zoo Director, we were notified that our expert vet’s credentials will be considered to jointly assess Lucy’s condition at her next evaluation. 


In the meantime, we’ve had correspondence from the Jane Goodall Institute’s Canada Board Member and VET, Dr. Rick Quinn, about JGI’s findings with regard to Lucy’s health. We have been given permission by Dr. Quinn to publish the letter with their recent findings which are, in our opinion, scientific and fair. However, Free the Wild have notified the zoo that our offer of assistance to send and fund an independent, elephant expert veterinarian stands.

We will keep our supporters updated on progress.

UPDATE: 12 MAY 2021


It’s been almost 5 months since Free The Wild offered Edmonton Zoo and the City Council of Edmonton,  the service of an elephant expert veterinarian to do a fair and independent assessment of Lucy, the elephant.  We have had ongoing correspondence with Mr. Gary Dewar (Director at Edmonton Zoo) along with the Mayor of Edmonton, Mr. Don Iveson and the Edmonton City Council, requesting permission and the right to send such experts to the zoo.  Repeatedly, we have been advised by Mr. Dewar that Lucy’s annual assessment is not due.  Yesterday, Mr. Dewar advised again that her assessment will only be scheduled for the autumn, once travel restrictions have been lifted.

We understand that May 18th marks Lucy’s 44th year in captivity at Edmonton Zoo and we have again, yesterday, repeated that our offer of an independent and free assessment of the elephant stands. We understand from Mr. Dewar that Free the Wild may or may not be granted permission though, as he said; “Free The Wild's generous offer to provide an independent expert is being considered for the review as are offers from specialized veterinarians from elephant sanctuaries.”

Previously, Mr. Dewar stated;
“Our team will review the vet’s [FTW’s Veterinarian] credentials to determine if he warrants consideration to be among the experts we will call upon to perform her [Lucy] next evaluation.”

Free the Wild is very keen to see that Lucy gets a fair and unbiased assessment by one of the world’s leading elephant expert veterinarians, not linked to the Zoo or any particular sanctuary, at which stage serious decisions can be made as to whether she will be fit for relocation to an appropriate sanctuary, where she can be cared for properly, live in healthier weather conditions and live out her life in comfort and peace.
Thank you for your support.

Team Free the Wild.


Free the Wild have offered The Edmonton Valley Zoo assistance, by way of providing and funding in full, a team of elephant expert veterinarians to assess Lucy the elephant to assess whether Lucy is fit enough to travel to a sanctuary. We have now had confirmation from Gary Dewar, Director of Edmonton Valley Zoo, that the zoo will not be requiring Free The Wild's assistance with Lucy's annual veterinary assessment.

This came as a shock to us as we have offered this service at no costs to the zoo nor to the city of Edmonton. With the team of vets we offered, our findings were guaranteed to be from an independent and unbiased viewpoint and would have served in the interest of Lucy and Lucy alone.

We have been in direct contact with Mr. Dewar and the other zoo officials as well as the Mayor of Edmonton, Don Iveson for over a year. Whilst it was always difficult to extract answers from Mr Dewar, he did confirm yesterday that our help is not needed and that they will select a veterinarian of their own choice to assess the elephant again this year. 

Considering Mr. Dewar has refused our offer of free assistance and that the Zoo has continually found excuses for Lucy to remain in Canada's sub-zero conditions, it seems very likely that this will be the case again, with Lucy now destined to remain at the zoo.

We implore Lucy's advocates and anyone with any interest in Lucy's case - to express their concern to the zoo. This can be a case of posting on their social media feeds or writing to Mr. Dewar directly. Links to the zoo and contacts below;

Edmonton Valley Zoo

Contact Edmonton Council

Any funds that Free the Wild have raised specifically for Lucy will now be appointed towards some of our other important projects, including the relocation of seven lions and a tiger from two Ukrainian Zoos to South Africa, the release of the world's loneliest gorilla from Pata Zoo in Thailand, urgent support for a growing number of elephants in South-East Asia and the development of a new large mammal sanctuary in the same region.

If you've donated to us specifically to aid in Lucy's case and you'd prefer for us to refund your donation, please forward your donation receipt to us via email (to with ‘request refund for Lucy’ in the subject line. We will process the refund as soon as possible.  

Regrettably, it seems that Lucy’s future is now out of our hands.

We thank you for your continued support and look forward to better news from our big cat, great ape and Asian elephant projects.

Team Free the Wild.


A Happy Life or Purgatory for Lucy?

From ongoing communications between Free The Wild Co-founder, Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne and Roger Jevne (City of Edmonton’s Community & Recreation Facilities / Citizen Services), it is clear that the Edmonton Valley Zoo's intention is to continue with their own annual assessments of Lucy and to retire her at the zoo.

The City of Edmonton and the Zoo’s management’s communications with us remain guarded and non-transparent.

It appears that the Zoo will not be performing an unbiased medical assessment on Lucy. Edmonton City Zoo will continue to use vets who specialise in Zoo animals, as they’ve done in the past and who will, probably once again, assess Lucy as a geriatric elephant who is unable to be moved. Without an unbiased team of specialist elephant veterinarians investigating and diagnosing the elephant’s condition and state of health, we and the general public will never know if she really is unfit to travel. Only these zoo-biased vets and the Zoo management will know the real truth.

Free The Wild continue to request that an independent, specialist elephant veterinarian examines Lucy to see if her heart and lungs are functioning optimally, along with checking for any deviations in her blood. 

To retire Lucy at Edmonton Zoo should only be considered as a last resort. Keeping her imprisoned for half of the year in freezing conditions is unnatural for an Asian elephant and quite possibly the reason she suffers breathing difficulties in the first place. She lives in a cold climate indoors most of her life with nowhere to roam, no distraction from monotony, no pool, no mud, no dustbath, no interaction with her own species and nothing remotely natural for her to enjoy. 

The question remains - Why does Edmonton Valley Zoo, after four decades of total exploitation, choose to continue to torture Lucy? Who would want to see an elephant kept in these conditions? Why not allow her to have a decent assessment and, if she is fit to travel, allow her to retire to a sanctuary where she can live the remainder of her life in comfort with care?

The Zoo along with City of Edmonton’s management continues to deliver politically guarded answers, avoiding direct questions and hiding their methods of her assessment from the public - until after the assessment has been completed anyway. Lucy belongs to the people of Edmonton and they have the right to know.

Transcripts of the correspondence between Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne and Roger Jevne (Community & Recreation Facilities / Citizen Services - City of Edmonton) are available on request - please write to us via email, with the subject line "Transcripts for Lucy's Case", sent to

Team Free The Wild.


Free The Wild and Panel of Experts Complete Lucy’s Health Assessment and Work with Edmonton Valley Zoo to Implement Changes for Her Long-Term Wellbeing

After an extensive assessment on Lucy's health, performed by four of the world's leading elephant experts over the course of three days on site at Edmonton Valley Zoo, and a number of follow-up tests in the months following, the panel has recommended that Lucy remain in place at Edmonton Valley Zoo due to the uncertainties regarding her severe breathing impairment.


Lucy presents a unique case as she is one of the only elephants in the world that appears to breathe primarily from her mouth. The panelists were unable to sedate her during the assessment as her current breathing method is a conscious effort, and sedation could easily cease her breathing. This, therefore, also limited the types of tests that could be performed on her.


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. 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.


Edmonton Valley Zoo has been made aware of these recommendations, and Free The Wild is confident they will be implemented. The recommended changes include providing additional space and freedoms for Lucy to roam at her leisure, fresh water for bathing and wallowing, and air quality checks with the implementation of air filtration systems to ensure she breathes clean, microbe-free air. The panel also recommended changes to Lucy's diet to help her lose weight, as being overweight can impact her joints and long-term livelihood. Additionally, they recommend a move to a protected contact management system to increase her autonomy.


Free The Wild and various members of the panel will work closely with the zoo in the following months to monitor Lucy's progress.


"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," said Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne, Co-founder of Free The Wild. "We believe these changes will improve her health and overall well-being and are committed to monitoring her progress in the coming months.”


We would like to thank Edmonton Valley Zoo for allowing us the opportunity to work with them in investigating and bettering Lucy’s wellbeing, especially to the zoo’s Director, Gary Dewar and head veterinarian, Marie-Josée (MJ) Limoges.


For access to the individual panelists' reports, please see the download links below. For further insight into the panelists' recommendations and information regarding Lucy specifically, please visit Edmonton Valley Zoo's portal for Lucy here:

Lucy The Elephant At Edmonton Valley Zoo.

Team Free The Wild

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Lucy Press Release


At Free The Wild (FTW), our mission is dedicated to the liberation and welfare of captive wild animals and among the many we advocate for, Lucy the Elephant's case stands as a poignant example of our ongoing efforts. This beloved Asian elephant has spent over four decades in captivity at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, sparking a widespread and fervent campaign for her relocation to a sanctuary where she can enjoy a more natural and enriching environment. This article delves into the heart of Lucy's story, illustrating not just the struggles faced but the relentless pursuit of hope, freedom and the tireless efforts of FTW and its supporters.


The Heart of the Matter


Lucy's story is a complex tapestry woven with legal battles, public campaigns and a deep dive into the ethical considerations of wildlife in captivity. At 47 years old, Lucy's health has been a central concern, fuelling the debate over her well-being and the impact of her continued captivity on her physical and mental health. FTW, alongside a coalition of animal rights activists, has long argued that Lucy's needs would be better served in a sanctuary dedicated to the care of elephants, where she could roam more freely and live among other elephants in a more natural habitat.


Our advocacy for Lucy is grounded in a profound belief in the rights of all animals to live in environments that respect their innate needs and behaviours. The campaign for Lucy's relocation is not just about one elephant; it represents a broader fight against the injustices faced by wildlife in captivity and a call to reevaluate the morality of confining such intelligent and social beings in restrictive environments.


The Findings and Fallout


Free The Wild was honoured to become the first independent provider to be allowed to see and assess Lucy by Edmonton Valley Zoo and, after years of negotiation, secured our place at her 2022 assessment. The caveat, the zoo would play an integral role in deciding which elephant experts would form the assessment panel.


Three places were allocated to prevent a split decision, and of the 12 experts that were vetted and interviewed, the zoo chose and approved Dr. Patricia London, Mr. Ingo Schmidinger and Dr. Goeritz (in order for Dr. Goertiz to be able to perform all of prescribed medical tests he required the assistance of another expert, Prof Hildebrandt).


Performing the 2022 assessment, conducted from October 5-8, the team and Lucy were under constant supervision, highlighting an atmosphere of distrust. The findings from Dr. London and Mr. Schmidinger underscored the inadequacy of Lucy's environment, citing concerns over substrate quality, air, climate, isolation, and space. Contrarily, Dr. Goertiz's team, focusing on Lucy's medical condition, recommended against relocation until her health issues, such as tumours and weight, were addressed.


Interestingly, the zoo discounted Mr. Schmidinger's expertise post-assessment, challenging his relevance due to his non-veterinary background, despite initially endorsing him. This selective acknowledgment of expert opinions appeared strategic, aimed at maintaining the status quo. Zoo officials explicitly stated that regardless of assessment outcomes, the decision to keep or relocate Lucy was theirs alone, underscoring a proprietary stance over her fate. This declaration cast a shadow over FTW's potential involvement in future assessments, especially as the findings from Dr. London and Mr. Schmidinger, which advocated for Lucy's relocation, were not aligned with the zoo's preferences, leading to their exclusion in 2023. 


Furthermore, in a strategic move that raised eyebrows among animal welfare advocates, the process was altered to include Prof Hildebrandt’s opinion as a fourth, after the fact. This change was not merely administrative but had profound implications for Lucy's future. The addition of another voice resulted in a split decision, effectively stalling the momentum towards her relocation. This outcome, deemed favourable by the zoo, underscored the complexities and challenges faced in advocating for captive animals' rights and welfare. From FTW's perspective, this manoeuvre highlighted the need for transparency, fairness and an unwavering commitment to the animals' best interests at the heart of such decisions.


The fallout from this split decision has been significant, not just for Lucy but for the broader conversation about animal welfare and captivity. It has galvanised our community, drawing support from around the globe and reinforcing the need for continued advocacy, research and dialogue. The fight for Lucy's relocation has become emblematic of the larger issues at play in the treatment of captive animals and the importance of ethical considerations in their care.


Our Dealings with The Zoo


In the pursuit of Lucy's well-being, our interactions with the Edmonton Valley Zoo (EVZ) have been characterised by a delicate balance between advocacy and diplomacy. Free The Wild (FTW) has navigated these discussions with the utmost respect and professionalism, despite facing significant challenges. We have observed that the ultimate control over Lucy's situation has consistently remained with EVZ. This dynamic has required us to approach negotiations with a strategy that both respects the zoo's position and steadfastly advocates for Lucy's best interests.


Our experience has shown that whenever discussions veered towards outcomes not aligned with the zoo's narrative, we were reminded of their authority over the final decision. This "their way or the highway" stance placed FTW in a position where we had to tread carefully, ensuring that our recommendations did not jeopardise our involvement in the assessment process. From the selection and briefing of "independent experts" to the constraints on what information we could share with our donors, every step was closely monitored. The underlying message was clear: overstep and the assessment process would proceed without our input.


Despite these challenges, diplomacy opened doors for us, allowing FTW to contribute to the evaluation of Lucy's condition and future. Notably, two out of three professional opinions initially favoured relocating Lucy, citing that with appropriate medical treatments and a strict diet, her health could improve to a point where relocation would be feasible. These recommendations aligned with FTW's stance, emphasising that older and more fragile elephants have been successfully moved over greater distances under carefully planned conditions.


We have always believed that Lucy's journey to a sanctuary, where she could receive specialised care and live in a more natural and social environment, was not only possible but essential for her well-being. The vision of Lucy traveling to a sanctuary, accompanied by her familiar keepers and making regular stops to ensure her comfort, represents a future that FTW has tirelessly advocated for.


The 2023 assessment, however, marked a departure from this vision, focusing on opinions that supported the zoo's preference to keep Lucy in her current environment. While the assessment acknowledged improvements in Lucy's health (excluding her breathing issues), it fell short of endorsing the much-needed reevaluation of her retirement to sanctuary and, more importantly, excluded the expert opinions of two of the previous panelists. This outcome underscores the necessity of public support to influence the decision-making process and advocate for what we believe is in Lucy's best interest.


Free The Wild does not support the way in which the 2023 assessment was carried out, but does respect the opinions of Dr. Goeritz and his team. In light of the latest assessment’s findings then, the question remains; “If Lucy’s health is improving, why not entertain the idea of preparing her for travel?” Should any major hurdles arise, the situation can always be re-evaluated.


As we stand at this crossroads, two paths lay before us: one leading to Lucy's potential new life in a sanctuary, surrounded by the care and companionship she deserves and the other keeping her in conditions that fail to meet her needs as a sentient being. The implications of each option are profound, not just for Lucy but for the broader conversation on animal welfare and the ethical responsibilities of zoological institutions.


FTW remains committed to exploring every avenue to ensure Lucy's story ends with dignity and compassion. We advocate for a process that allows for her preparation for travel, under the guidance of experts who can assess and mitigate the risks involved. Our goal is not just to challenge the status quo but to foster a future where the well-being of animals like Lucy is prioritised over financial considerations or the inertia of tradition.


Moving Forward


As we continue to advocate for Lucy and many others like her, FTW is committed to pushing the boundaries of what is possible in animal welfare. Our efforts extend beyond the courtroom and the court of public opinion, delving into the realms of education, legislation and direct action. The journey for Lucy's freedom is far from over and each step forward is a testament to the power of collective action, compassion and the enduring belief in a kinder, more just world for all beings.


The journey ahead may be fraught with challenges, but it is propelled by a simple, unwavering belief: that every effort should be made to give Lucy and others like her, the opportunity to live out their lives in environments that respect and enrich their natural behaviours and social needs.


The story of Lucy the Elephant is a rallying cry for change, a call to action for anyone who believes in the intrinsic value of all life. It's a reminder of the responsibility we hold to protect the most vulnerable among us and to strive tirelessly for a world where every animal is respected, valued and free. Join us in this noble quest, for together, we can make a difference in the lives of animals like Lucy, one step at a time.

Image by Karl Anderson
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