EDMONTON - Animal rights groups are threatening a lawsuit unless the City of Edmonton agrees by next month to move Lucy the elephant from the Valley Zoo to a sanctuary in the United States.
Zoocheck Canada and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have written a letter outlining their demands to Mayor Stephen Mandel and city councillors.
They have obtained a legal opinion written by prominent Toronto-based lawyer Clayton Ruby, who said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he plans to argue that the city is violating Alberta's Animal Protection Act by keeping an animal in distress.
The legislation specifies that an animal is in distress if it's injured, sick or suffering, or subjected to undue hardship or privation.
Ruby said he will file a lawsuit in Alberta Court of Queen's Bench unless the City of Edmonton agrees by Nov. 19 to allow Lucy to be shipped to a sanctuary in California. He noted a court case could cost city taxpayers dearly.
"She's given enough to the children and families of Edmonton. It's time to let her go retire in California, rather than spend hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting this lawsuit," he said.
In his legal brief, Ruby writes that the 34-year-old elephant lacks the "necessities of and comforts of life" because she is kept alone, despite acknowledgment by experts that female elephants are highly social animals and should be housed with others of their kind. He notes that provincial standards for zoos in Alberta require that "animals must be maintained in numbers sufficient to meet their behavioural and social needs."
He also alleges that Lucy is bored, obese from lack of exercise, has undiagnosed upper respiratory problems and suffers from chronic foot infections - something Ruby said is one of the leading cause of premature death in captive elephants.
A spokesperson for the mayor's office couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
Before a visit last month by legendary game show host Bob Barker - who pleaded for Lucy's freedom - the zoo issued a report by a veterinary expert in San Diego that said the pachyderm is fine where she is and a long journey could be life-threatening.
Ruby dismissed that argument. He said it's not acceptable for the zoo to use illnesses it caused as a justification for failing to "alleviate that suffering."
The animal rights groups have offered to pay the tab to transport the elephant to a sanctuary. That bill could range anywhere from $20,000 to over $70,000, Ruby said.