ab-elephants

Lucy, one of two elephants at Edmonton's zoo, lives in one of the worst enclosures in the country, according to Zoo Check Canada. ((CBC News))

A national animal welfare group has declared Edmonton's Valley Zoo elephant enclosure the worst in Canada.

Zoo Check Canada said officials should immediately move the two elephants to a sanctuary in Tennessee.

Dean Treichel, the operations supervisor at the city zoo, said elephants Lucy and Samantha don't need to go anywhere.

"I thinkour elephants are managed appropriately, I think they are healthy, I think they lead a very good life," said Treichel.

"The bottom line for the zoo is what is in the best interest for animals that are in our care, that we are responsible for. And decisions are made based on that."

Zoo Check Canada sent a Kenyan elephant expert to visit several Canadian zoos last fall. In her report, Winnie Kiiru wrote that the climate in the Edmonton area is too cold and the enclosures too small for the two elephants at the Valley Zoo.

Debate over elephants' health

Samantha lost part of her trunk in an August accident and Lucy is suffering from foot infections and arthritis, said Zoo Check spokeswoman Julie Woodyer.

Foot problems are the leading cause of death among zoo elephants, she said.

"Because of the lack of space, they're not able to get ample exercise. And of course, elephants are hard-wired to walk over great distances. They aren't able to get the exercise to get the blood flow going to heal the infection. So no matter how hard the zoo employees work at trying to get rid of those foot problems and the arthritis, they'll never be able to do it because of the restriction in space."

Unless the elephants are moved to a better home, Woodyer said,their health will continue to deteriorate until they have to be put down.

But according to Treichel, Lucy is a healthy elephant.

"This animal is extremely relaxed, not stressed, not pacing, not doing anything other than exhibiting natural behaviours," he said. "She's well cared for, there's no health problems causing her any problems at all."

Treichel said the report wasn't fair because it was a snapshot in time by one person, not a comprehensive account.

Kiiru looked at 35 elephants in seven zoos in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.