Lucy & Arturo

“The marks humans leave are too often scars.”

John Green, The Fault in Our Stars


zebra at San Diego Zoo


We all have them –

long ones, deep ones,

small ones, serrated ones,

dark ones that hide terrible wounds,

ones that are so faded that they are almost invisible,

but that are still there, nonetheless.

It doesn’t take long to get them –

you’d have to be completely oblivious and indifferent to not accumulate scars –

but once they’re there, sometimes they can be difficult to tone down, cover up, or hide.

Sometimes scars can remind us of how far we’ve come,

of what we’ve been through,

of what inspires us to move forward.

(And sometimes they don’t do any of this.

They are just there as par for the course.)

We’d spent this last Christmas vacation in southern California – did a bunch of touristy things (Sea World, San Diego Zoo ..),

and a bunch of not-so-touristy things.

  We drove past many farms withering, drying, dying in the drought,

traveled past cholla gardens, through orange groves, wound our way through Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave Desert,

and smelled the pungency in the air near the Salton Sea (if you’ve ever been there, you’ll know what I mean).

 I realized while I was in southern California, that I loved the desert more than I could imagine


it was so different from the west coast of British Columbia.


it was seemingly barren

and so wide open.

So expansive.


there were times when there was almost no one around –

just the silence,

or the wind.

or a bird,

and I don’t have that at home.

There’s almost always the noise of sirens, cars, crows, planes

the sounds of movement, momentum, change.

But as much as I loved being alone for wisps of time in the desert, I love being with my people.

And so, I wonder what it would be like to have my people taken from me.

What kind of scar that would leave.


Ah, and so, there’s the segue.

There was a feature story on the news here recently

about a young geography student at the University of British Columbia

who was working in Africa with elephants –

What a fantastic thing!

And a huge kudos out to him for doing something about this problem!

But then the story reminded me of the animals we’d seen at the zoos we’d visited in our travels,

and the story (specifically, the reference to the poachers)

reminded me of how poorly people sometimes treat the creatures we are to be stewards of,

how we take from them the things we want and the things we value,

and how terribly selfish we can be while we’re doing this –

 and how we help to create these terrible scars while we’re doing it.

  I’m conflicted about how I feel about zoos,

because I know there are bound to be scars – seen and un – at zoos

and I think I know how I feel about aquariums –

if you’ve ever watched BlackFish and been moved by it, then you’ll understand –

but zoos,  I still seem to feel conflicted about which side of the fence I’m on.

I’m all for education of the masses. Of providing opportunities to learn where there are none otherwise to be found.

But, I also have to wonder, what is the cost?

What is the price on our five minutes of gawking,

as we throw another mouthful of popcorn into our mouths, move on to the next exhibit,

all the while forgetting that Mary and Lucy and Bai Yun the panda, and Arturo the polar bear, and Ken Allen the orangutan, cannot move on?

Is the cost measurable?

How do you put a price on the benefit of staying where you belong (ie, Africa, Malaysia, China)?

And is staying a good thing

– or is it a bad thing?

Is the emotional and psychological trauma of removing the creature from its natural environment,

calculated into the cost?

How about the trauma associated with their natural environment being destroyed (the rainforests being depleted, elephants being hunted for their ivory, etc.)?

But then, what about the mundaneness, the boredom, the tedium of zoo /aquarium life?

What is the cost on that?

You see why I’m conflicted?


When we went to the zoos, to Sea World, we encouraged our children to consider both sides of the coin:

maybe zoos and aquariums have a good side to them, if managed properly.

The Vancouver Aquarium , for example, has started a few programs to encourage sustainability and conservation, programs for research, and education;

some of the animals the children had seen in their travels had been rescued,

some were being rehabilitated,

some places are giving scientists the opportunity to increase the breed’s numbers through breeding programs,

most places are giving scientists the chance to observe and learn,

all are giving our children the chance to observe and learn.


So, maybe sometimes zoos and aquariums CAN be a good thing?

On the other hand,

if frequenting places like these encourages the perpetuation of keeping animals in captivity for commercial gain,

and continues to deny the creatures the opportunity to live as they were intended to,

then they are not a good thing and we need to look elsewhere for our education about these animals.

There are two cases, however, in which I’m most certainly not conflicted on in how I feel about zoos – Lucy’s and Arturo’s.

Lucy is an Asian Elephant living in Edmonton, Alberta,

one of the ten coldest cities in Canada,

and Arturo is a polar bear living in Argentina.

I don’t think I need to say any more about that.

On these I am not conflicted.

It just isn’t right.

A campaign had been started to move Lucy to Galt, California, where there is an elephant sanctuary called P.A.W.s. that has enough room

and enough other elephants to create a more natural environment for Lucy,

and they even offered to pay for all the associated costs to move her.

The Zoo was opposed –

Lucy was too old to move.

Lucy is not a social elephant

The Zoo is all she’s ever known.

Essentially, Lucy needed to stay in Edmonton.


Mary at the San Diego Zoo

Places like P.A.W.s and Sipilok Rehabilitation Center

and the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuary 

 demonstrate that there should be no reason to have an animal enclosed in captivity,

just to sell stuffies

and day-trips –

And so, maybe there’s my answer –

 by suggesting these alternatives,

by boycotting zoos and promoting these other, more natural, places,

and, in doing so, maybe

we’ll be able to prevent further scarring.

You may have to look a little harder and go a little further to find these wonderful places,

but, in the long run, who will end up being better off?

And really, if all you want is popcorn and a daytrip,

maybe it’s best to just take yourself and your young ones to an amusement park.

I dunno, what do you think?

If you agree, maybe take a moment to sign the petition to get Arturo moved, or email the folks in Edmonton about moving Lucy to California.

If you don’t agree, feel free to chime in!


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