According to a new rule established by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), by 2016 all elephants in captivity must be housed with at least two others like themselves to “mimic the social group status in the wild.” For many, such a requirement is seen as the very least effort that should be made to improve the well-being of these high-intelligent animals — but at least one zoo has stated publicly that they have no plan to abide by it at all.
In defiance of the AZA rule, officials at the San Antonio Zoo say that they will not provide company to their one remaining elephant, named Lucky, nor relocate her to where she can be among her own kind. Instead, they say that she will be kept in solitary confinement until the day she dies.
Zoo director Steve McCusker told the Express-News that, at age 54, Lucky was too old to be moved offsite to a sanctuary or other facility that has other elephants, saying “there’s no right thing to do with her except leave her where she is.”
Lucky has been at the San Antonio Zoo since 1962, two years after she was kidnapped from the wild in Thailand and forced to spend her life in captivity, mostly denied interactions with other elephants. Not surprisingly, after that early trauma she’s grown wary of becoming attached — or as McCusker puts it, she’s “weird.”
That’s another reason, he says, they’re going to make her spend the rest of her life alone.
"She's never been kind of a herd elephant. She's always been kind of a weird elephant that would rather be alone or with people than other elephants," says McCusker. "That's really the philosophy and science behind why we have kept her."
There is another reason that the zoo might be hesitant send Lucky off to live among other elephants — she’s still such a big draw for paying visitors.
For watchdog groups, like In Defense of Animals, the San Antonio Zoo’s decision to defy the AZA’s rules comes as no surprise -- last year, the zoo was ranked number one on their list of “10 Worst Zoo For Elephants.”