Opinion Editorial

Calves could be stuck in isolation until 2031 under new dairy industry guidelines

A version of this article was originally published in The Province.

Amid an onslaught of controversies surrounding the Canadian dairy industry, including a scandalous viral video of an Ontario farmer dumping milk down the drain, new guidelines for the care of dairy cows have been quietly released. 

Late last week, the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) released its updated Dairy Cattle Code of Practice, which provides guidelines for the care of dairy cows on farms across Canada. The Code reportedly received a record-setting number of comments from more than 5,800 individuals. Although a strong public response prompted some positive changes, several areas of the Code still fall short of expectations. 

During the public comment period on the Code of Practice, one of the sections that received the strongest response was that on calf housing.  

It’s easy to see why; like other social animals, calves thrive with interaction and physical touch. Most human parents are familiar with the importance of cuddling to a baby’s development. Like human children, calves who are deprived of physical contact experience stress, slower growth, weakened immune systems, and lower welfare. Conversely, research shows that “pair or group housed calves show improved cognitive development, perform more play behaviours, and are less reactive to novelty”. 

A 2018 study found that 63% of farms in Canada reared dairy calves in individual housing. It is a promising step that the NFACC has acknowledged in the new Code of Practice the harms that this can cause, as well as the many benefits of social housing for calves.  

Unfortunately, the new regulations pave a long road to change. The updated Code of Practice will continue to permit the isolated housing of calves until 2031. This prolonged regulation shift will put millions of calves at risk of being housed individually over the next eight years, denying young calves the ability to engage in their natural herding instincts during their formative months.  

Perhaps most shocking is the continued absence of required emergency planning.  

The public comment period for the Dairy Cattle Code of Practice launched November 29, 2021, while rural communities in B.C. were still reeling from the impacts of disastrous flooding. The floods claimed the lives of approximately 640,000 farmed animals in B.C., including about 420 dairy cattle. Farmers, veterinarians, volunteers, and community members scrambled to evacuate and house thousands of animals, as many were trapped for days standing in deep, murky water.  

The Code recommends that farms develop a plan for evacuating cattle in the event of an emergency, but has no requirements around emergency planning. 

Other concerns that remain unresolved by the updated guidelines include the continued use of electric prods, the stressful separation of cows from their newly born calves, the lack of required outdoor access, and the transportation of cows who are compromised or lactating. 

There is some good news – the new Code explicitly prohibits abusive handling, which it defines as “kicking, beating, striking, tail twisting, dragging, improper use of a prod, and forcefully pulling cattle by the tail, head, or neck”. 

Avoiding many of these techniques was previously only considered a recommended best practice, but recent controversies have prompted a public cry for accountability. In 2021, the industry was subject to public scrutiny when news coverage revealed disturbing footage of dairy cows being violently beaten, kicked, and dragged at Cedar Valley Farms in Abbotsford. 

While the NFACC guidelines aim to address some of the systemic cruelty highlighted in undercover investigations like the one at Cedar Valley, the Code’s reach is not absolute. Meaningful monitoring, enforcement, and penalties for industry stakeholders found guilty of animal abuse are still needed to ensure animals are protected. 

The NFACC’s codes of practice are typically only updated every ten years, meaning that for better or worse, dairy cows will likely be stuck under these insufficient guidelines for the next decade. Meanwhile, consumers can find a growing selection of plant-based alternatives that increasingly rival the taste, texture, and price of dairy – without the suffering. 

Opinion Editorial

Why Canada needs to take action now to stop octopus farming 

Article originally published in The Daily Hive.

In the award-winning documentary My Octopus Teacher, filmmaker and Sea Change Project co-founder Craig Foster says, “A lot of people say an octopus is like an alien. But the strange thing is, as you get closer to them, you realize that we’re very similar in a lot of ways.”

As one octopus develops a complex friendship with Foster, the film demonstrates how intelligent, curious, and sensitive these animals can be.

Industry stakeholders seem to be relying on the perceived otherness of octopuses to enable consumers to look the other way as they begin to establish the first inhumane octopus farms, even as our society is increasingly critical of cruel intensive animal agriculture practices. Thousands of animal advocates and allies across the world have spoken out to agree: it’s not working.

Earlier this week, reports of horrific plans for the world’s first octopus farm began making their way across the media cycle after confidential planning proposal documents were released to the BBC by the organization Eurogroup for Animals.

Rows of barren tanks at Kanaloa Octopus Farm in Hawaii each confine a single octopus who was caught from the wild. Laura Lee Cascada / The Every Animal Project / We Animals Media.

The farm, which is planned to open in Spain’s Canary Islands by multinational corporation Nueva Pescanova, will be a nightmare for octopuses.

In the wild, common octopuses—the species set to be farmed, and the species featured in My Octopus Teacher—are typically solitary animals who are highly territorial. They spend time interacting with their environment, in which they are capable of using complex problem-solving skills and tools. They hunt a varied diet of many marine species, usually at night. They are accustomed to the dark and prefer making their home in crevices where they can easily hide.

By contrast, Nueva Pescanova’s intensive farming plans would keep octopuses in crowded communal tanks, at times under constant light, where they would be unable to express their natural behaviours such as hiding and hunting. The animals would be defenceless as they would be raised and picked off for human consumption.

Content warning: This image depicts the bodies of deceased octopuses at a processing plant. (Click to expand)

A worker at a processing plant, processes octopus bodies with water through specific machines to make them turgid for sale. Selene Magnolia / We Animals Media.

Plans also note that octopuses will be killed by “ice slurry,” which has been identified as a painful and stressful death for the fish on whom it is currently used. The aquaculture industry has already begun shifting away from this slaughter method, including a requirement in the National Farm Animal Care Council’s (NFACC) Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farmed Salmonids to transition to acceptable methods by 2025.

If we could have stopped industrial-scale animal farming before it began, the reality for animals would look very different now. Industrial animal agriculture has been called the biggest animal welfare crisis on the planet, with more than 70 billion land animals killed for food each year.

Content warning: This image depicts the bodies of deceased octopuses at a processing plant. (Click to expand)

Octopus bodies at a processing plant. Selene Magnolia / We Animals Media.

The Sentience Institute estimates that 74% of farmed land animals and virtually all farmed fishes are currently on factory farms, which are characterized by large numbers of animals confined in cramped, barren and unnatural conditions. Many of these animals are never given the opportunity to see the sky, smell fresh air free of the scent of ammonia, or feel the grass.

In Canada alone, 825 million land animals were killed in 2021. The number of farmed aquatic animals who are killed in Canada is so enormous that they are counted by weight rather than lives: 191,249 tonnes of finned fish and shellfish in 2021.

The Canadian animal agriculture industry has been the face of numerous scandals over the past decade, as undercover footage revealed live chickens with their legs ripped off, dairy cows cornered and beaten with canes, and conscious sheep flailing about with their necks cut open.

While we can do our collective best to decrease the demand for animal products and address the terrible suffering that industrially farmed animals endure, we sadly cannot go back in time to save the millions of lives squandered in misery, awaiting a painful and terrifying end.

However, we can prevent this tragic fate for octopuses. A federal petition calling on the government to ban the breeding, keeping, and import of farmed octopuses and other cephalopod species in Canada has already amassed more than 10,000 signatures.

The decision is simple, and it must be made now: before another species is subjected to horrific suffering; before cephalopod farms are established; before the federal government must contend with industry interests and try to unring yet another bell of cruel treatment. For the sake of protecting these intelligent, complex animals, sign the petition today.

Federal e-petition: No factory farms for octopuses
Opinion Editorial

It’s time to stop using taxpayer money to fund inhumane events

Article originally published in The Daily Hive.

On Thursday, the Government of British Columbia announced new funding for fairs, festivals, and events; but the inclusion of one controversial and inhumane type of event is raising eyebrows among animal advocates. 

According to a press release from the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, the Province will provide $30 million to support B.C.-based events, including sporting events, arts and culture events, community celebrations, agricultural fairs, and one baffling choice: rodeos. 

Rodeos are the subject of growing criticism in British Columbia and around the world; and it’s easy to see why. Rodeo events cause unnecessary pain, fear, and stress to animals, both at the event and in countless practice sessions, all for a few moments of so-called entertainment.  

To provoke the “performance” behaviours seen from animals in rodeos such as running and bucking, handlers and riders deliberately agitate these sensitive prey animals by pulling their ears, twisting their tails, and using uncomfortable tools like flank straps and spurs. Video footage released by the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) reveals a number of recurring welfare concerns at some of B.C.’s most recent rodeo events in Chilliwack and Langley Township. 

What happened at this year’s Chilliwack and Langley rodeos

The return of the Chilliwack rodeo this year, along with a controversial new rodeo held in Langley Township, has raised concerns about the well-being and welfare of animals made to perform in rodeo events. Video footage taken at both rodeos this summer shows stressed and frightened animals being roughly handled and deliberately agitated into fleeing and bucking.

Meanwhile, evidence of poor welfare practices in rodeo continue to stack up. A new study was published just one month ago on the stress caused by calf roping (also called tie-down roping), a controversial event which takes place annually at rodeos in B.C. Concerns raised in the study include the risk of injury to young calves “such as damage to the windpipe from the lasso, bruising and broken ribs from being violently yanked off their feet and being forced to the ground, and choking from the tightened rope around their neck.” The study concluded that calves exhibited signs of distress across every phase of the calf roping event, from being chased, lassoed and caught, to when they were released.  

Unlike human athletes, animals used in rodeo cannot decide whether or not to participate. If given the choice, there’s no doubt they would opt out of being roped, wrestled, and roughly handled. 

The use of taxpayer dollars to fund these inhumane events is especially bewildering given the widespread dissent to the practice. Recent polling shows that only 26% of British Columbians are in favour of using animals in rodeo and a whopping 64% are opposed; the remainder are undecided. As a whole, our society is placing increasing value in treating animals with care and respect. 

Amongst governing bodies apparently more in tune with community values, the growing awareness around animal sentience is inspiring a shift away from this type of animal exploitation for the sake of public entertainment. The City of Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver have already implemented a ban on rodeo events, as have the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and a host of municipalities and regions worldwide. The Cloverdale Rodeo dropped four of its most concerning events after the death of a calf in 2007, and soon afterwards, the Luxton Rodeo near Victoria and the Abbotsford Rodeo were cancelled in 2015 and 2016, respectively.  

It is difficult to see the Province’s announcement of rodeo funding as anything but a confident stride into the wrong side of history. That is why a new campaign from the VHS is calling on the Province to direct funding toward family-friendly community events, rather than rodeo events. 

With a myriad of positive events that could use funds to reinvigorate the tourism sector and celebrate culture, community, and compassion, it would be incredibly disappointing for the Province to sink funding into a cruel and outdated practice that, as the majority of British Columbians agree, is better left in the past. 

Say no to funding rodeo cruelty
Opinion Editorial

Why hasn’t Canada stopped horses from being shipped to slaughter overseas?

Article originally published in The Daily Hive.

Sunday night on the cold tarmac of Winnipeg Airport, a gentle horse stood in a crate, waiting to be loaded onto an airplane. The horse had no name; he and the thousands of horses like him who are shipped out of Canada each year are known only by their identification numbers. He was one of more than 100 horses loaded onto a flight destined for Japan, headed an ocean away to be slaughtered for human consumption.

The flight took off 361 days after Prime Minister Trudeau directed the minister of agriculture to ban the live export of horses for slaughter in a mandate letter on December 16, 2021.

It has now been exactly a year since that letter was sent. Since then, no action has been taken, and the bodies of horses destined for slaughter have continued to pile up.

It’s impossible to know exactly what happened to the horse without a name – the Government of Canada has no jurisdiction over foreign slaughter practices after animals touch down in another country, out of the sight and mind of the many Canadians who consider them to be beloved companions. But we have a general idea of what happened to the horses on his flight.

Photo: Canadian Horse Defence Coalition

The journey from a Canadian feedlot where horses are raised to their final destination overseas can take up to 28 hours; a full day in which they are deprived of food, water, and rest. It’s common for three or four horses to make the journey cramped together in a single wooden crate, with their ears poking through the top slats.

Before 2020, regulations dictated that horses must be shipped in their own crates with adequate head clearance. After the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC) took the Minister of Agriculture and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to court over illegal breaches of transport regulations, the minister acted swiftly – not by changing the practices to meet animal welfare standards, but by changing the law to fit inhumane conditions.

“It is not acceptable to compromise horse welfare in favour of industry interests,” said CHDC President Sinikka Crosland. “Neither should the law be manipulated in order to meet those interests.”

Photo: Canadian Horse Defence Coalition

On noisy airplanes, these gentle herd animals with a strong fight or flight instinct go through a long journey of fear and stress. Some fall down upon takeoff or landing. A 2014 incident report indicated that a horse, who appeared agitated during loading, fell during takeoff and remained down during the flight. The horse thrashed and kicked through the crate, damaging the airplane and forcing an emergency landing. After landing, the horse was found dead in the crate, next to two other horses.

With last year’s mandate letter, our government acknowledged the need to put an end to the live export of horses for slaughter. Yet around 2,000 horses have been exported since the federal minister of agriculture was directed to end the practice.

Every month that the Ministry of Agriculture shirks the commitment outlined in its mandate letter, more horses suffer needlessly.

Thousands of Canadians have joined the movement, headed by advocates like the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition and Canadian singer-songwriter Jann Arden, calling for an end to the long and stressful transport journeys of horses being shipped to slaughter. With the recent launch of a new federal petition calling for the minister to finally end live horse export for slaughter, there is no doubt that many more voices will join the cry for justice.

Opinion Editorial

Wolf escapes highlight horrific issues plaguing Greater Vancouver Zoo

Article originally published in The Daily Hive.

Animal lovers in B.C. are mourning the loss of Chia, a wolf who escaped from her enclosure at the Greater Vancouver Zoo Tuesday. Chia was tragically found dead on the side of the road yesterday.

Officials believe that Chia was hit by a car. And it’s known that animals raised in zoos for permanent captivity lack the survival skills of their wild counterparts. They do not recognize the dangers posed by cars on the road and are far more likely to associate human activity with food.

Chia’s sad ending is a devastating reminder of the concerns associated with keeping wild animals in captivity. Though zoo supporters will often claim that zoos breed animals in captivity for conservation purposes, captive-bred animals raised in unnatural zoo environments are not equipped to survive in the wild. And their survival in captivity, as it stands, can hardly be called living.

Walk through the zoo and you’ll see well-worn paths where animals like Hana the tiger spend their days pacing alongside the fences of their enclosures—as physically close to the free outside world as they’ll likely ever get. You’ll see a barren, concrete indoor pool where hippos Haben and Hazina can be found floating listlessly throughout the cold winter months. You’ll see giraffes repeatedly licking the bars of their enclosure. Abnormal, purposeless behaviours like this are common in captive animals who are unable to express their natural behaviours.

The Greater Vancouver Zoo has been aware of many animal welfare issues in their facility for years. The most recent report on conditions at the zoo, commissioned by the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) and prepared by Zoocheck, raised alarms about a number of concerns.

Among them were concerns about the wolf enclosure’s small size and lack of complexity or enrichment. It was also recommended that the zoo stop breeding the wolves; yet young wolves including one-year old Tempest, who was also missing for several days, and six new cubs continue to be raised at the zoo for the entertainment of the public.

Unfortunately, the same issues raised in the report persist year after year, causing continued suffering to the many animals who are kept in captivity at the zoo.

High-profile incidents resulting in heightened public scrutiny of the zoo

In 2019, a 2-year-old child was bitten by a black bear after being able to enter an “unauthorized area.” The toddler had to be airlifted to hospital.

In 2020, the public raised concerns about an emaciated moose named Oakleaf, prompting an investigation by the BC SPCA. Oakleaf was then euthanized.

In 2021, a zoo employee was bitten when a jaguar climbed up a feeding chute. Rather than addressing the behavioural needs of this natural hunter and climber, the zoo welded bars to the bottom of the chute.

Just this year, the VHS filed a cruelty complaint with the BC SPCA after obtaining video footage of animals engaging in repetitive behaviours and in small, barren enclosures.

When will enough be enough?

This week’s tragic incident is the latest in a pattern of concerning incidents at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. But the series of high-profile cases that make it into the news are just the tip of the iceberg when compared with the monotonous, day-to-day suffering of the wild species confined to enclosures thousands of times smaller than their natural habitats.

If the Greater Vancouver Zoo refuses to make significant changes for the well-being of the animals they keep, a change must be made for them. That’s why the VHS is imploring provincial decision-makers to immediately address the outdated regulations around keeping, breeding, and transport of wild and exotic animals. Concerned citizens are encouraged to contact their MLAs now to protect wild animals from suffering in captivity.

How many more animals must we see put at risk, come to harm, and suffering at the zoo before change is made? For the sake of Chia and Tempest, Haben and Hazina, Hana and Oakleaf, and all the other wild animals who have not had their needs met in captivity, let’s hope we’ve reached our limit.

Opinion Editorial

Calgary Stampede-goers should skip deadly chuckwagon races

A version of this article originally published in The Daily Hive.

People from across Alberta and Canada are flocking to Calgary for the return of the Calgary Stampede, but the event’s program gives reason for pause. For the first time since 2019, the Stampede’s deadliest event is returning: the Rangeland Derby chuckwagon races.

It doesn’t take much to see through the thin veneer of the Stampede’s carefully crafted safety-first defenses to the inherent danger on which the races were built. The Calgary Stampede’s chuckwagon races continue to be the cause of near-annual horse deaths; more than 70 horses have been killed by the event since 1986. Risk is so intrinsic to the nature of the sport that the World Professional Chuckwagon Association openly deems it the Half-Mile of Hell.

The last time the races were held, six horses died. One incident, in which the death of a horse and the injuries of three more were ruled to be caused by driver error, resulted in the event’s first-ever driver disqualification and potential lifetime ban. That driver has since been reinstated and is now slotted to race in 2022 without missing a single year.

In 2021, Stampede organizers cancelled chuckwagon racing due to safety concerns over a lack of practice season. Some of the Stampede’s usual wagon drivers – who purport to have the best interest of their animals at heart – went on record slamming the unprecedented safety precaution.

Unsurprisingly, when a similar event went ahead in nearby Red Deer that season, a horse was injured and had to be put down.

Stampede organizers have had two years to reconsider the deadly sport – but instead of responding to public demands to remove the races, they made a minor rule change that decreases the number of wagons on the track from four to three.

This is unlikely to differ in impact from previous changes, which set a bleak precedent for the outcome we can expect.

In 2011, the Stampede dropped two outriders from the event, bringing the number of horses on the track down to two outriders per wagon in each heat instead of four. The following year, an outrider horse sustained severe injuries after crashing into an unexpectedly halted wagon in an incident that claimed the lives of three more horses.

The problems with the chuckwagon races cannot be solved with simple rule changes. The volume of horses on the track in each heat is indeed problematic, but the threat to the animals’ safety runs much deeper.

Without serious structural changes to the event, the races will always be at high speed and close proximity, running the risk of chain reaction incidents like the one seen in 2012. The races also continue to use thoroughbred racehorses, many of whom have broken their legs during the event. Animal scientist Temple Grandin has pointed to an inherent problem with the use of thoroughbreds as selective breeding for speed has weakened their legs.

Rather than addressing these serious issues, Stampede organizers have opted to bring back the event in full force.

It is worth noting that the return of the chuckwagon races is not for lack of alternative events. The Stampede has been called Canada’s largest arts festival, with visual arts having been incorporated since the event’s inception. The Stampede’s diverse range of music performances is estimated to draw more than 600,000 attendees each year.

With an array of safer options to truly celebrate the vibrant culture of Calgary, it is baffling to see the Stampede leaning back into an event that is as controversial as it is dangerous.

It is obvious that the much-needed shift away from the Half-Mile of Hell will not come from the common sense of the organizers, but from the pressure of the public. If Stampede goers do not wish to bear witness to possible deaths of horses, year after year, the choice is clear: skip the chucks.

Opinion Editorial

“No justice” for those who exposed animal cruelty at Abbotsford hog farm

Article originally published in The Daily Hive.

Today, the Excelsior 4 (now 3) begin their trial by jury for exposing animal cruelty at a hog farm in Abbotsford; but there is no justice in this case.

The story of the Excelsior 4 began in 2019, when dozens of animal activists documented the suffering of pigs at Excelsior Hog Farm, advocating for media cameras to be allowed on the farm. Their aim was simple: to show the public how much suffering goes into the meat products they can find neatly packaged on grocery store shelves.

Footage recorded on the farm reveals a dire situation. In it, pigs can be seen crammed in crates barely larger than their bodies, unable to turn around. Some have bloody lacerations on their ears; some sport large growths around their eyes or abdomens; some struggle to stand on badly broken legs. Nursing mother pigs are separated by restrictive bars from their babies who languish, helpless and dying, on filthy floors. Anonymous staff shock the animals with what appears to be electric prods as they shy away, squealing, or cart dead piglets out of the barn in wheelbarrows.

In other videos, activists can be seen breaking down in tears as they document the bruised and bloodied bodies and broken spirits of animals widely understood to be as capable of learning and social behaviour as beloved family dogs.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of unimaginable suffering, Excelsior Hog Farm has still faced no legal repercussions in the three years since the footage was taken. The so-called justice system has instead targeted a small group of individuals who exposed this cruelty, known as the Excelsior 4.

One of the Excelsior 4, Geoff Regier, had charges stayed in pre-trial. The remaining three, Roy Sasano, Amy Soranno, and Nick Schafer, face a combined total of fourteen serious charges. If convicted, they could be looking at years in prison.

The fact that this case has proceeded to the trial stage while the perpetrators of egregious cruelty carry on free of consequences is a tragic testament to the priorities of the justice system. It is not on the side of the hundreds of millions of blameless animals who languish in illness and injury behind closed doors only to be slaughtered by gas, knife, or electrocution. It is certainly not on the side of the people expressing compassion for these defenseless animals. No; it is on the side of the corporate interests that perpetuate such inhumane treatment for the sake of the bottom line.

If the measure of a society truly is how we treat our most vulnerable members, where does this leave us?

The system has failed spectacularly in protecting any semblance of empathy for farmed animals and the humans who have tried to help them thus far. If we are to have any sense of justice in our society, the perpetrators of cruelty must be held accountable; and those who expose it must be celebrated, not punished.

Opinion Editorial

Proposed rodeo in Langley flies in the face of community values

Article originally published in The Daily Hive.

A new rodeo may be coming to the Lower Mainland — and that could spell bad news for animals and residents.

Organizers have requested approval from the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association to host the event in Langley this September. The group name, Valley West Stampede Society, may not ring any bells, but at least one familiar face hints at ties to BC rodeo’s problematic recent history.

The committee contact listed on the Pro Rodeo website is Rich Kitos – the former vice president of the Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association and one of the key board members named in the human rights complaint filed against the Association in July of last year. The complaint alleges that board members including Kitos conspired to cover up racist, sexist, and physically abusive conduct.

To see a new rodeo proposed in connection with this name should be a cause for concern to the Langley community.

This new proposal is especially shocking given the widespread opposition to rodeo in BC. According to a poll from earlier this month, 64% of BC residents are opposed to the use of animals in rodeos.

Animal suffering is becoming increasingly difficult for British Columbians to stomach as awareness grows. More and more, the science of how animals think, feel, socialize, and perceive the world is bringing to light the suffering inherent in rodeo practices.

It’s a natural next step, then, to prevent as much unnecessary suffering as we can for these animals. We would not goad a puppy in a chute so that he bursts out at a high speed, only to be roped by the neck and tied at the legs; yet this is the treatment rodeo supporters would have us accept for 3-month-old calves in tie-down roping events. All the while, research and common sense tell us that calves experience stress and fear while being chased, roped and roughly handled.

One of the common arguments for rodeo events is that they educate the public about where their animal-based food comes from. The truth is, if these same practices were to occur on a farm, they would be against the law. The National Farm Animal Care Council requires quiet handling techniques to minimize stress. Roping an animal by the neck at over 40 kilometres per hour would be considered abusive under section 5.2 of the Veal Cattle Code of Practice because of the dragging that can occur.

There is further concern with animals being purpose-bred for rodeo, leading to distressing predispositions like bulls or horses who are more sensitive to negative stimuli. This causes the animals to buck when they are exposed to fear, pain, and stress, such as from the use of spurs and from a flank strap tied around their sensitive hindquarters in bucking events.

Combine this with the increased risk of injury that could put animals in line for euthanasia, and it is clear that rodeo is fundamentally at odds with how we should be treating animals.

The growing awareness around animal welfare is largely responsible for the recent shift away from rodeo events in BC. In 2007, the death of a calf prompted the Cloverdale Rodeo to drop four of its most concerning events: calf roping, team roping, steer wrestling, and wild cow milking. In 2015, the Luxton Rodeo near Victoria was cancelled; the Abbotsford Rodeo followed suit in 2016. The following year, Chilliwack Rodeo implemented modest rule changes to its calf roping and steer wrestling events, including that a steer must be on his feet before being rolled to the ground.

To approve a new rodeo now which would not only introduce unnecessary suffering to animals, but also have ties to concerning allegations of discrimination in a recent human rights complaint, would fly in the face of our society’s values and the progress we have made. If our community is committed to justice and compassion, we cannot sit by and permit these major steps backward for animals and humans.

Opinion Editorial

The Greater Vancouver Zoo is failing the animals in its care

Article originally published in The Daily Hive.

In the wild, hippos typically live in social groups of around 10 to 30 individuals. They spend most of their time wallowing in shallow, slow-moving water as they bask in the warm sun of their natural climate. A day in the life of the two hippos at the Greater Vancouver Zoo, siblings Haben and Hazina, looks very different.

The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) raised concerns about Haben and Hazina’s enclosure following a 2019 report prepared by Zoocheck Canada. The barren winter enclosure does not replicate a natural hippo habitat.

Small, barren indoor enclosure for hippos in captivity

Footage recorded in 2022 shows a small, barren indoor enclosure for captive hippos in Metro Vancouver.

In August 2020, the VHS found that the two hippos had been separated. A sign explained, “Haben has reached sexual maturity and is fighting for dominance … This is normal hippo behaviour that will sort itself out in time”. How much time is unclear; the sign remained as of VHS’s 2022 visit, meaning these normally social animals have been living in contact isolation for at least a year and a half.hippo separated greater vancouver soon

A sign that has been posted at the Greater Vancouver Zoo since 2020. Vancouver Humane Society, January 2022

The Toronto Star reported that in 2006, “two charges of cruelty to animals were laid against the zoo … which alleged [Hazina] was being kept alone in a windowless shed with a pool so shallow she couldn’t float.”

If reading about this has left you feeling uneasy about wild, exotic animals in captivity, you aren’t alone. According to a new poll, 89 percent of British Columbians oppose the international trade of exotic animals to be kept on display in permanent captivity in zoos and aquariums.

Why are wild animals still being kept in captivity?

Part of the problem is BC’s loophole-ridden legislation. The keeping, breeding, and transport of exotic species (wild animals not native to BC) is subject to the province’s Controlled Alien Species (CAS) regulation. This regulation is not comprehensive; it is based only on species that pose the greatest threat to public safety and fails to consider animal welfare or a species’ suitability for captivity.

That means animals like the ball python remain unregulated, even though evidence tells us they fare poorly in captivity.

The CAS regulation also allows accredited zoos and aquariums exemptions to keep, breed, and transport prohibited species like hippos.

While requiring that a zoo or aquarium be CAZA-accredited or equivalent may initially sound reassuring, accreditation does not necessarily translate to better welfare for captive animals. Reports from organizations like Zoocheck Canada and VHS, statements from previous zoo staff, and photos and videos all highlight the dark side of accredited facilities. This is because CAZA, or Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, is self-regulated by the zoo and aquarium industry and has effectively no incentive to improve the welfare of animals beyond what consumers and the inadequate law demand.

Another stumbling block is public support for zoos and aquariums. While the vast majority of British Columbians oppose transporting exotic animals into the province for display, opinion on keeping captive animals at zoos and aquariums for education and entertainment is split more evenly.

There is a common misconception that most captive animals have been rescued. Zoos and aquariums don’t typically advertise the sources of their animals because they were often bred in captivity or sourced from the wild. For instance, Hana the tiger at the Greater Vancouver Zoo was born at the Seoul Zoo in South Korea.

Many people still believe that breeding and keeping exotic animals in captivity has value to conservation efforts. However, the Greater Vancouver Zoo’s few conservation projects involve only species native to BC.

Intuitively, this makes sense. Why would conservationists invest in breeding exotic animals in a habitat that is far different from what they would naturally experience? If the goal is to eventually reintroduce animals into the wild, efforts would take place somewhere similar to their natural habitat and climate. Breeding animals to be kept perpetually captive does nothing to help conservation efforts. Sadly, the more zoos and aquariums breed exotic animals in captivity, the more animals we condemn to generation upon generation of boredom and psychological distress.

For Haben and Hazina, who were never intended to be released back into the wild, the result is a life confined to a barren enclosure that couldn’t be further from their natural habitat.

The reality is that zoos and aquariums do not have the capacity to fully meet the needs of all the exotic animals they keep. They cannot replicate the size and complexity of a wild and exotic animal’s natural habitat or provide the opportunity for these animals to engage in many of their natural behaviours.

If these facilities were truly interested in conservation, they would stop bringing in or breeding exotic species entirely. They would focus on the conservation of native species, including the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of injured and orphaned wildlife.

But most zoos and aquariums will not make this change on their own. That’s why VHS has launched a petition calling on the provincial government to update the CAS regulation to include animal welfare considerations. With the proposed changes, the regulation would prohibit the keeping, breeding and transporting of all exotic species for permanent captivity; close loopholes; and restrict the captive breeding of native wildlife, unless it is part of a reintroduction program into the wild.

The provincial government has a unique opportunity to create a hopeful future for captive animals. As our understanding of how captive animals suffer has improved, so too must regulations around keeping them in permanent captivity.

Opinion Editorial

Listen to the vast majority opposed to exotic wild animals in zoos and aquariums

Article originally published in The Georgia Straight.

From watching a bear dance in a circus to forcing a dolphin to jump through a hoop, many entertainment acts that were once considered wholesome family fun are now widely seen as archaic acts of animal cruelty. The traditional model of zoos and aquariums may soon be among their ranks.

Public support for animal captivity is waning, according to a new survey carried out by Research Co. The polling data reveals that 89 percent of British Columbians oppose the international trade of exotic wild animals to be kept on display in permanent captivity in zoos and aquariums.

The data comes along with growing awareness of the disease risks of the exotic animal trade. One in four emerging diseases is zoonotic; many of the most serious illnesses of our lifetimes have originated in animals, including COVID-19.

The international trade of animals increases the risk of disease spread.

There are serious ethical issues with keeping exotic animals (wild animals not native to B.C.) in captivity. It’s virtually impossible for a zoo or aquarium to meet the needs of exotic animals. They provide a small, enclosed, unnatural environment, often with a climate that is far different from these animals’ natural habitats.

Because of this, animals succumb to zoochosis.

Zoochosis is a term that describes animal suffering that is not physical but psychological and emotional. Denying animals the freedom to engage in natural behaviours causes, at best, frustration. At worst, the result is extreme neurological distress.

December incident in which a jaguar from the Greater Vancouver Zoo climbed up a feeding chute and bit an employee exemplifies this zoo’s inability to meet the needs of its animals. The zoo, despite acknowledging on their website that jaguars have a natural instinct to climb and hunt, responded by welding bars to the existing feeding chute.

The survey also revealed mixed opinion on other zoo and aquarium practices. Forty-nine percent of British Columbians support keeping animals in permanent captivity for entertainment and education, while 44 percent are opposed (the remainder are undecided). The educational value of zoos is highly disputed.

Currently, B.C. regulates the keeping of exotic animals through the Controlled Alien Species (CAS) regulation, which prohibits exotic species that pose the greatest threat to public health and safety. This regulation has not had any significant updates since its passing in 2009; it is overdue for changes that align with the evidence around animal suffering in captivity and the values of British Columbians.

Advocates concerned about the plight of captive exotic animals can sign a petition calling on the B.C. government to update the CAS regulation to include animal-welfare considerations; to prohibit the keeping, breeding, and transport of all exotic species for permanent captivity; and to close loopholes that currently permit CAS animals to be kept in zoos and aquariums for film and tv, and in research and education institutions.

As society’s understanding of how exotic wild animals suffer in captivity has grown in recent years, there is an opportunity for zoos and aquariums to move away from keeping animals in permanent captivity. Instead, facilities can embrace interactive, educational animal-free exhibits, along with rescue, rehabilitation, and release programs for injured or orphaned native wildlife.