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For years we’ve argued that the elephant exhibit at the San Antonio Zoo needs to be completely remodeled to better meet the needs of the species. After the death of companion, Alport, Lucky remained alone for nearly three years before a new companion, Boo, was introduced. Boo passed away in 2013, leaving Lucky alone yet again. In late June 2016, Nicole was brought in on loan from the Ringling Brothers Conservation Center (CEC). In late August, a third elephant from CEC, Karen, was brought in as well.

Brief History

ORIGIN: THAILAND

BORN: 1960

WILD-CAUGHT: < 6-MONTHS-OLD

CAME TO SAN ANTONIO: 1962

Major Issues

Lack of Space

The elephant exhibit, recently expanded, still only sits on approximately 0.38 acres. There simply is not enough space for an elephant to properly exercise joints or maintain a healthy weight.

Psychological Issues

Lucky has been exhibited displaying stereotypic behavior since as early as 2008. This is a direct result of the impact of her environment and the situations she's been forced into.

Lack of Shade

Despite the trees added outside of the perimeter of the exhibit and updated tarps, the zoo has done next to nothing to allow the elephants to escape from the heat of the summer Texas sun.

Compact Substrata

The exhibit sits over a layer of limestone, covered with sand and dirt that quickly becomes compact. This can cause immense stress to her joints and feet.

Lack of Grass

As of late June 2016, the zoo has added a small area of grass around the pool, the first of its amount since Lucky's arrival in 1962. However, the majority of the exhibit is still sand and dirt.

Antiquated Exhibit

As of 2016, 54 years into Lucky's lifetime at the zoo, there have been minimal improvements to the exhibit. Overall, though, it is still antiquated, landlocked from any true upgrades needed.

1. The Beginning

OWC's involvement—a part of the NGO, Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, at the time—in the Free Lucky campaign began in early 2008 shortly after the death of female African elephant, Alport, sparked local activist outrage. The campaign was started by local group, Voices for Animals, and during the frame of 2 years, 5 months, and 19 daysLucky's first span of solitary confinement, the Free Lucky Coalition was formed. Groups such as In Defense of Animals, Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, and others, joined forces and spoke out against the zoo. Not only had Alport's death left Lucky alone, but their pairing was against their own regulatory body's standards, as African and Asian elephants should not coexist. Lucky hadn't seen an Asian elephant since Ginny's death in 2004.

2. Boo's Arrival

On April 21, 2010, the zoo brought in a highly abused circus elephant named Boo, stage-named Queenie, as a companion for Lucky. OWC had worked behind the scenes with Boo's keeper for months prior to her arrival, and 24 hours before she was sent to San Antonio, had convinced him to send her to sanctuary. Sanctuary was ready with a truck to accept her and pick her up, but at the last-minute, the owner's hand was forced, and Boo was sent to San Antonio. The two elephants did not get along. Boo had PTSD, food aggression issues, and bullied Lucky to the point of slamming her head against the back limestone wall. Boo died on March 10, 2013, leaving Lucky alone yet again for another 3 years, 3 months, and 17 days.

3. Nicole's Arrival

On Jun 27, 2016, after the zoo had spent years stating publicly that Lucky was a "weird" elephant who preferred the companionship of her keepers over that of elephants, that she was their princess, that she would die at the zoo alone, the zoo brought in another abused circus elephant, Nicole. They did not quarantine her as was done with Boo and is recommended by their own regulatory body, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which leaves many concerns, both concering the health of both elephants as well as behavioral and psychological issues. Stay posted for updates, as this is a new development.


More Facts

DEATHS:

LUCKY HAS WITNESSED THE DEATHS OF AT LEAST 5 ELEPHANTS SINCE HER ARRIVAL IN SAN ANTONIO

HEALTH: 

LUCKY IS ON HER LAST SET OF TEETH

SHE HAS DOCUMENTED ARTHRITIS

SHE IS OVERWEIGHT

IDA WORST ZOO LISTS: 

#6 in 2007

#1 IN 2008 

#1 IN 2009

#1 IN 2010

HALL OF SHAME IN 2011

HALL OF SHAME IN 2012

# 1 IN 2013

#2 IN 2014

#6 IN 2015

OTHER WORST ZOO LISTS: 

#5 in 2010 - GLOBAL POST'S WORLD'S WORST ZOOS

#11 IN 2001 - CEE4LIFE'S WORLD'S WORST ZOOS

Lucky was born in Thailand in 1960 and was wild caught at six months of age before being shipped to Illinois, where she remained for around a year. At two years old, she became a resident at the San Antonio Zoo, joining three other elephants. Read the history of all of San Antonio Zoo’s elephants here.

Little had changed since Lucky's arrival in 1962, until mid-2016, when the zoo—likely under pressure from the ongoing lawsuit—added trees, minimally expanded the perimeter, and updated the pool. It is still not enough for one elephant, let alone more.

Conditions such as arthritis, joint, and weight problems are easily alleviated with a proper habitat and acreage. Elephants need their own room to properly socialize, something that is not allotted in the exhibit she currently resides in. Lucky had nowhere to go to get away from Boo. With grass beneath her feet and room to roam, her arthritis and overweight issues would easily be treated.

* Foot problems, caused by improper, compact substrata, are the number one cause of death in captive elephants.

 

 



Our Work on the Campaign

Since launching her campaign, we’ve worked many angles in attempts to gain her retirement, including:

  • A petition, which garnered over 10,000 signatures, online and off
  • Local awareness
  • Consistently documented observations
  • Protests
  • Attempted negotiations with the zoo
  • Work with the San Antonio City Council 
  • Merchandise creation and advertising for Lucky
  • Creation of student outreach program
  • Celebrity outreach
  • CLOSED: Petition declaring to stop tourism in San Antonio, Texas, until elephant, Lucky, is free
  • Under Texas law, most nonprofits are not held to the Freedom of Information Act, but if they are receiving money from city or state, which is the case at the San Antonio Zoo, they are open. So we sent a 10-day notice, requesting records on Alport and Lucky, and then filed a complaint with the Attorney General, but we were denied access because of an appeal that the zoo filed, claiming they were private medical records
  • Work with other government agencies
  • Filed numerous complaints with the USDA, OIG, WAZA, as well as congressional inquiries

Network of Experts

We’ve also been in contact with many professionals in the field, veterinarians in the United States, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Thailand, and Australia including, but not limited to: