Lawsuit Filed to Compel San Antonio Zoo to Release Elephant to a Sanctuary

Posted on December 1, 2015

Lucky the Elephant Suffers Physically and Psychologically at Zoo

For immediate release:

Natalia Lima,, 201 679 7088

lucky-the-elephant-cc-One-World-Conservation-article-image-230pxSan Antonio, TX. — The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), the nation’s leading legal advocacy organization for animals, today filed a lawsuit against the San Antonio Zoo for violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with its treatment of its lone remaining Asian elephant, Lucky.

The suit alleges that the conditions of Lucky’s captivity injure her both physically and psychologically. The zoo’s ESA violations include:

Inadequate shelter: Elephants are susceptible to overheating and their skin is sensitive to strong sun. The pool available to Lucky is too shallow to allow her to submerge and cool herself. After receiving ALDF’s intent-to-sue notice, the Zoo planted a few trees, but Lucky took them down by using them as scratching posts and playing with them, and the zoo never replaced or maintained them.

Inappropriate substrate: The exhibit floor where Lucky lives consists of a thin layer of sand compacted on a hard undersurface of limestone—contributing to Lucky’s abnormal gait and her probable arthritis and joint calcification. Spending hours every day standing on such an unyielding surface will worsen Lucky’s medical conditions and could lead to osteomyelitis (terminal bone disease).

The Animal Legal Defense Fund and its clients would like to see Lucky go to a sanctuary, where she could have the companionship of other Asian elephants, a more natural environment, and large spaces that would allow her to move and walk, activity being the best way to counteract or halt her physical deterioration.

San Antonio City Council member Joe Krier invited both parties to mediate this dispute. Despite ALDF’s willingness to stay this litigation and participate in mediation to ascertain Lucky’s best interests, the zoo declined to participate. Previously, the zoo had twice declined to discuss settlement possibilities with ALDF.

“More and more zoos have admitted that they cannot meet elephants’ complex needs and have closed their elephant exhibits,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of Animal Legal Defense Fund. “Instead of acknowledging the obvious–that it cannot meet Lucky’s needs–the San Antonio Zoo makes excuses about why it is unwilling to allow her to have a better life. We hope the zoo will choose to let Lucky live out her days in the more natural environment of a sanctuary, rather than stand around waiting to die where she is now.”

ALDF’s suit was filed on behalf of three San Antonio residents and is backed by the international nonprofit One World Conservation, which has campaigned on Lucky’s behalf since 2008. Melissa Lesniak, a San Antonio-based animal welfare and criminal defense attorney, and the international law firm Dentons LLP are providing pro bono legal assistance.

Copies of the complaint are available for download (PDF).


62 thoughts on “Lawsuit Filed to Compel San Antonio Zoo to Release Elephant to a Sanctuary

  1. Please if you cannot accommodate this elephant’s needs then please let her go to a sanctuary.

  2. karen wilson says:

    Thank you for making every effort to save Lucky! Her life needs to be one of peace, freedom and nature…not captured in an unnatural environment surrounded by people watching her. Of course the zoo declined to mediate! They also decline to humanely care for Lucky as demonstrated by her health issues & the fact she does not have other elephants to socialize with!!! Shame on the zoo directors. Unfortunately this shame spills over to the city of San Antonio & creates such a negative image. Can’t believe the mayor would not want to solve this terrible PR problem!!! Good luck seeking Lucky her freedom!

  3. dodin says:

    poor Lucky…..


  4. Jeanne Marie says:


  5. Linda Karp says:

    It is unconscionable to incarcerate all wild animals, but particularly a lone elephant, in this cruel manner. The San Antonio Zoo needs to release this suffering, sentient being to a sanctuary IMMEDIATELY! I will never visit San Antonio until this happens. The zoo is a disgrace to the city, and to all living beings until it releases this elephant.

  6. Josephine Osborne says:

    Please do the right thing and let her go to a sanctuary.

  7. robert story says:

    End the suffering; send this lonely animal to join other elephants.

  8. Annette Whillier says:

    I hope you win. It may set precedent for others to do the same. Elephants deserve to be with other elephants, and not in Zoos, or a circus.

    Thanks so much.

  9. Trisha caceres says:

    If you cannot properly take Cate of a Wild animal in your care please surrender them to pee who are more than willing too. It’s bad enough that Lucky is living a traumatic life alone in captivity. You do not deserve to have this majestic and beautiful life on your grounds. Release Lucky!

  10. Tracy Light says:

    Lucky, like all elephants is a sentient being. She does not deserve this awful existence – it’s not even a life. Please release her to a reputable sanctuary, where she can live the rest of her days with the love and care she deserves.

  11. Lindsey says:

    Could we have a lawsuit filed against the LA Zoo for doing the same thing to Billy the Elephant ?

  12. Debbie ellis says:

    The treatment and lack of elephant interaction is inexcusable.
    Lucky truly is a lonely and deprived of all that is natural for an elephant.
    San Antonio must stop making excuses- doing what is right for Lucky- not the money making of the zoo. Men posturing for their careers- not one of them is kind enough to do the right thing- let her go to Sanctury.

  13. Erica Brown says:

    I know you’re an American group and you’re wonderful. Is there anything you can do for Lucy the elephant, alone in Edmonton zoo?

  14. Linda Diem says:

    You need to get this baby to the sanctuary.

  15. Claire poulsen says:

    Elephants are a social species. Zoos know that. Why are you not respecting this need? Transfer the elephant to a sanctuary with other elephants immediately because it is the right thing to do.

  16. Lynn Wareman says:

    I attended one of the protests and held many signs on behalf of Lucky’s release. I know her story, and just pray she remains healthy enough to enjoy her freedom very soon. I am relieved we are getting help from the outside, and pray it is ultimately successful.

  17. Please stop this abuse!

  18. Tami Phelps says:

    Stop this abuse and get this lonely, beautiful, intelligent creature to a sanctuary.

  19. Katherine Salassi says:

    Please release Lucky to a suitable sanctuary and stop abusing this animal.

  20. Angela Santmier says:

    Please do the right thing and release Lucky to a sanctuary. She is suffering in her current environment and is lonely as well. Thank you ALDF for filing suit. I support all your efforts 100%!

  21. Lucy Muller says:

    Thank you so much. I know you can win.

  22. Patty Vansciver says:

    The time has come to release ALL elephants from zoos and circuses. We will not stop fighting until every single one of them is moved permanently to an elephant sanctuary.

  23. Pamela Hlliday says:

    It is a known fact that elephants are social animals, and need to be with others in a group setting. Keeping Lucky alone is inhumane, and abusive. She has suffered too much for too long. Do the right thing and let her spend her remaining years with the companionship of others of her kind, and perhaps feel some happiness again.

  24. Stefanie says:

    This sweet creature needs and deserves companionship!

  25. May says:

    Lucky deserves better! God is watching how you treat other living beings!!!

  26. Jean Dickensonn says:

    This abuse has to be stopped.

  27. Cassie says:

    You got this!! Stop abusing these beautiful animals they have feeling just like anyone else I bet no one would want to live like that

  28. Cassie says:

    Thank you! This girl deserves a better like, elephants have feeling just like anyone else

  29. Maya says:

    Why isn’t anyone collecting signatures for a petition to be given to the judge in this case? Also, contact Goldie Hawn she has great interests in elephants, maybe she can find a way to help as well, reach out to her via web pages….her rep is listed. MANY letters should be sent to the director of the place this elephant is kept in. They need to understand people are outraged and the sanctuary should also come forth with a television contact, showing a place where the elephant could live, but isn’t able to. ALL THE MEDIA attention could awaken the evil selfish entities in this case toward kindness and release

  30. Harriet Greenlee says:

    It’s only for the best interest of this animal I beg the citizens of San Antonio to do the right thing and allow this magnificent animal to live her remaining days in a manor she deserves. We owe this to her.

  31. Veronica Pais says:

    This is pure animal cruelty to knowingly allow her to suffer. You need to allow her to be in a sanctuary where she can heal and live out her days as the elephant it is. Elephants are very social and I am sure she is depressed by not being able to live with others where they can roam free. PLEASE GIVE UP AND ALLOW THIS LIVING ANIMAL TO LIVE WITH IT’S OWN IN A SACTUARY.

  32. Michelle says:

    Please free Lucky 🐘

  33. robert dowling says:

    whats with these zoo people are they advocates for animals or advocates to make $ for their facility. let her go to a sanctuary, so she leaves this world knowing most humans are not knuckleheads.

  34. Robyn bandinel says:

    Pathetic abuse!

  35. wendy ceron says:


  36. Nancy York says:

    Lucky has served her time and paid her dues to the SA Zoo! It’s time to let her live out her few remaining years in a sanctuary!

  37. dee says:

    Why is abuse so attractive to you. To you he might be just an animal, but to us with hearts he is a beautiful living breathing soul who deserves love, respect and dignity. Stop the none sence and do the right thing. Your heart will thank you for it.

  38. Debbie Clark says:

    I hope you win. This elephant deserves so much better. I send my hope to the powers that be realize this and do the right thing.

  39. john ferrie says:


  40. Austin says:

    Does anyone know which sanctuary that she would be going to? PAWS in Cali? Or http://www.elephnats com? either one, they are both luxry retirement homes for needy elephants that deserve to get spoiled rotten in their golden years for what humans have done to them. The Nashville Zoo just decided to retire their 3 elephants, maybe SA will follow along.

  41. EG says:

    Since the zoo continues to violate all regulations of the ESA, it seems that ALDL can obtain a court order for Lucky’s release. I’ve heard about Lucky for a long time and can’t believe she is still there. Can you ask other groups to help you? Earth Justice or PETA? Can you send our comments to the mayor? Put pressure on him and San Antonio. Let’s hurt them in their pockets by giving their city the worst press, and affecting tourism. Money always talks the loudest.

  42. Joke Sleurs says:

    It’s not a criminal in a cage! The owner should be in there just to have the knowledge of jow it feels to be locked op without family

  43. Fay Woolway says:

    My geography is somewhat poor of parts of the USA is this the USA if so I’m shocked I thought this was illegal

  44. RITA MIRANDA says:

    this is soo cruel on every level… please set him free. that is why they are called wild animals because they should be free in the wild

  45. Kris Noble says:

    Please release Lucky to a sanctuary – she deserves to find some happiness and be with other ellies – she has been imprisoned and trained into submission by humans for long enough now. Please have a heart and give her freedom to be an elephant

  46. robert maxwell says:

    So I know the national accreditation group says you must have three elephants to stay accredited and specific space requirements for elephants. Hopefully these will be enforced in regards to San Antonio. But I have to say every body screams take them to a sanctuary. I hope you realize that even though sanctuaries say they have these loads and loads of acres, it does not mean they are all for the elephants. I have visited a few personally as I have actually worked with elephants in the past. Most are in cold weather areas for winter, bring the elephants in barns in winter and the outside yards are not the hundreds of acres you think but fences in areas of varying degrees, so don’t buy the hype. In addition most don’t have qualified staff and little to no vet care. There are a few zoos creating huge modern facilities with outside yards almost as big as what these and barns far more modern and suitable for elephants. Couple that with on site vet care and better trained personnel many times that is a better option than a sanctuary. Couple an elephants life span and the financial viability of sanctuaries what will happen when one shuts down. I am sorry but most don’t have a good plan in place. ALDF may mean well but many times what is being suggested really is not the best for the animals.

    1. Ray Martinez says:

      Weighing the pro’s and con’s of both options…I would have to say the Sanctuary would be the best bet. Even if only for the new scenery after 50 years in the same enclosure…other Elephants to socialize with…more space,even if not acres and acres…its time for this girl to retire from the public eye…the Zoo can find a younger elephant to replace her after they bring the conditions up to regulations and friendly to Elephants.They don’t need to get every last minute of her life out of her…

  47. shelby albert says:

    Pray the suit is successful. ..The zoo is selfish…Lucky should be allowed to basically retire she has made the zoo millions it would prove they care if they just allow her to go live out her life off concrete being stared at…

  48. N Patricia says:

    Please let Lucy go to a place with other companions, away from the cruelty of loneliness and confort deprivation.

  49. Jessica Macqueen says:

    The zoo should consider the BENEFIT and admiration they would inspire all over North America should they release Lucky to a sanctuary. Right now their name is mud; they could turn this around to their benefit and stand as a humane representative for all zoos around the world.

  50. Sylvia says:

    FREE innocent elephant LUCKY NOW! She must not continue being the victim of these ignorant and cruel people.

  51. Sylvia says:

    FREE innocent elephant LUCKY NOW! She must not continue being lonely and suffering in such bad conditions.

  52. Pamela V. Gibson says:

    Please consider the needs of this magnificent animal. There are appropriate places for this elephant.

  53. Angela Padovani says:

    Please release Lucky to a better place. Stop the abuse.

  54. Donna Gearhart says:

    Would YOU want to live like that?? RELEASE this poor baby!!

  55. Elena Larson says:

    Please, let us not use animals for amusement. When we really care, we want the best for an animal’s well-being. We all know what is best for Lucky, give her sanctuary and society with other elephants.

  56. Sandra Taylor says:

    Please stop the abuse. You must not keep any animal or bird or other creature if you are unable to meet the basic needs to support physical and mental health of that creature. How can the San Antonio Zoo continue to violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with its treatment of its lone remaining Asian elephant, Lucky. Elephants are social by nature. Please give her the life she needs by setting her free to live out her life in a sanctuary. Think of her physical pain. That alone should give you pause. Thank you for not only considering this as a solution but make it a priority for Lucky.

  57. Karen Norton says:

    Please release Lucky too a sanctuary! No more torture and abuse!

  58. Cara Hewitt says:

    Release lucky, let him live up to his name

  59. Raya Engler says:

    Elephant Lucky has paid her dues a long time ago. Find it in your heart to free her and allow Lucky to live out the rest of her life in peace. You would want the same for yourself, I’m sure.

  60. Crystal says:

    It’s not just her habitat! Every day the zoo pollutes our river with MILLION of gallons of waste that comes directly from the zoo, is used once by the animals, and then put directly into the san antonio river. Waste water that is infected with e coli with levels 135 times that which is safe for humans to come in contact with. Down with the zoooooo!

  61. Jack says:

    She needs to go to The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald TN

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