lucky the elephant

Press Release

Animal Legal Defense Fund Demands Sanctuary for “Lucky,” Lone Elephant at San Antonio Zoo

Zoo Conditions Violate Endangered Species Act, Accreditation Standards

For immediate release:


San Antonio, TX. — Today, the national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) sent a 60-day notice of intent to sue the San Antonio Zoo for the mistreatment of its lone remaining Asian elephant, Lucky. This action is backed by the international nonprofit One World Conservation, which has campaigned for Lucky since 2008. Today’s letter alleges that the Zoo is violating the Endangered Species Act by keeping Lucky in conditions that injure her physically and psychologically. Advocates sent the letter on behalf of San Antonio residents requesting that the Zoo retire Lucky to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, where she can be with other Asian elephants in a habitat closer to natural conditions for elephants in the wild. Melissa Lesniak, a San Antonio-based animal welfare and criminal defense attorney, and the international law firm Baker Botts LLP are providing pro bono legal assistance.

Lucky has been at the San Antonio Zoo since 1962. She was captured from the wild in Thailand, in 1960, before she was one year old. She has been kept alone since the death of her companion, Boo, in 2013. She was previously alone for more than two years, after her companion Alport died in 2007, despite the standards set forth by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which require that a female Asian elephant live with at least two Asian elephant companions. Experts worldwide have attested to the highly social nature of elephants. The zoo has controversially stated that Lucky is just “weird” and prefers the company of human beings to other elephants, despite observations from her keepers that she had bonded with another Asian elephant, Ginny, who died in 2004.

Lucky’s cramped, barren enclosure offers too little shade and stimulation, and provides an unnaturally hard surface. She exhibits clear signs of psychological distress, like swaying, head-bobbing, and pacing, a response to the stress of her confinement known to experts as “stereotypic” behavior.

Accompanying the letter is a declaration by Scott Blais, Cofounder and CEO of Global Sanctuary for Elephants, who has overseen the transformation of numerous elephants from harmful confinement to living in social groups in sanctuary. “As an intensely social, highly intelligent, emotionally complex migratory animal, living in essential solitude, in absence of emotional nurturing, with limited psychological stimulation and prison-like confinement, Lucky has suffered incredible harm as a result of her confinement in the San Antonio Zoo,” Blais states in his declaration.

“The San Antonio Zoo has 60 days to comply with the Endangered Species Act,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of ALDF. “The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee has agreed to accept Lucky, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund will pay for her transportation to sanctuary, so the question becomes when is the zoo going to do what’s best for this suffering animal?”

Copies of the letter are available by request.

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