Opinion Editorial

Wolf escapes highlight horrific issues plaguing Greater Vancouver Zoo

Article originally published in The Daily Hive.

Take action for animals in captivity

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.

Opinion Editorial

Emergency planning must include animals

Article originally published in the VHS Newsletter.

In November 2021, flooding and landslides devastated parts of British Columbia. People were forced from their homes, animals had little or no way of escaping, and roads were blocked off or destroyed, slowing rescue efforts and essential supply distribution.

One of the hardest hit was the Sumas Prairie – a once massive lake that was drained a century ago to become a hub for the province’s animal agriculture. Two measures were meant to prevent the Prairie from returning to its watery roots: a dike and a pump station. When the dike was breached and the pump found itself in critical condition, the overflowing Sumas River reached the Prairie’s farms and the hundreds of thousands of animals inside.

The catastrophe killed more than 640,000 animals, including 628,000 chickens and farmed birds, 12,000 pigs, and 420 cows. There is no doubt that those animals died in pain and fear. Others were impacted by ongoing health issues like pneumonia as a result of the being trapped in flood waters.

In the face of unimaginable tragedy, many people shared feelings of helplessness, anger, and above all, grief. On one thing everyone could agree: no one ever wanted to see a crisis like this happen again.
As we recover and rebuild, it is essential that we not return to the way things were. Decision-makers at every level need to take a serious look at their emergency planning and prevention, and account for the safety and well-being of animals – not just their monetary value.

This incredible scale of suffering and loss of life calls for more than just lip service. It calls for concrete steps to consider animal protection in emergency planning, and transparent communication to the public demonstrating how that action will be taken.

To do that, decision-makers need to examine the factors that made this situation so dire.

We know that the flooding is not a one-time event; several atmospheric rivers have moved in on the province since the initial flood, and experts expect these to grow more severe as warming air carries higher concentrations of water vapour. In some regions, the ground was already damaged by wildfires this past summer, resulting in more severe floods and landslides. Scientists predict that these extreme weather events will only grow more frequent in the coming years as temperatures rise. Urgent climate action must be a part of emergency planning.

As part of their plan to reduce the risk of farmed animals perishing in floods or other extreme weather events, like the heat domes we saw last year, decision-makers should consider sustainable regional and local food policies that meet nutrition demands and reduce climate impacts. For instance, incentives could be introduced for farmers who are transitioning to plant-based agriculture, which reduces the number of animals that would need to be evacuated in an emergency and produces food with a far smaller ecological footprint.

In the meantime, some shorter-term changes can be made to prevent another tragedy from occurring. The low-lying Sumas Prairie is home to well over a million farmed animals. When the flooding began, there was no hope of evacuating them all. There were too many animals and not enough vehicles. Each chicken farm in the area houses around 25,000 birds, with some holding more than three times that number. It seems obvious that emergency planning must include a strategy for animal evacuations to prevent the kind of mass suffering we have seen. Equally important is ensuring those evacuations are feasible. This huge volume of animal lives concentrated in such a small area, especially one at risk of flooding, makes moving the animals to a safer location virtually impossible.

For too long, there has been pushback on progress that protects animals, our environment, and even ourselves. The smallest changes, from reducing our carbon emissions to eating more plant-based foods, have been called extreme. What now seems extreme is not the action, but the result of inaction.

The danger is no longer hypothetical. It is here, on our doorsteps. Decision-makers will need to respond with this tragedy. And then, with crisis staring us in the face, they absolutely must prevent the next one.

Opinion Editorial

Employee injured by jaguar at Greater Vancouver Zoo highlights welfare issue

Article originally published on Daily Hive.

Last month, a Greater Vancouver Zoo employee was injured when a jaguar climbed up a feeding chute and gripped the worker’s hand in his mouth. This incident is incredibly unfortunate, but for the many Greater Vancouverites who have been raising concerns about the zoo for years, it may not be surprising.

The incident exemplifies the inherent problems of keeping wild, exotic animals in captivity, including putting workers’ safety at risk. Receiving meat through a feeding chute is not a natural way for a jaguar to eat. The zoo’s own website acknowledges that jaguars “prefer to hunt with surprise attacks from a concealed location. They are great … tree climbers which aid[s] them in their ambushes.” Dropping food down a metal chute deprives the jaguars of their natural hunting behaviour—and puts an employee at risk of being bitten by an animal that the zoo has recognized to be an excellent climber.

Of course, the zoo has few other options under its model of keeping captive exotic animals in enclosed, unnatural environments. The zoo is not equipped to meet the needs of the jaguar. With an instinctual inclination to spend his day hunting wild prey, a jaguar’s natural territory covers hundreds of square miles, an area thousands of times larger than the entire zoo.

Being confined to a single space can cause feelings of frustration and helplessness, a reality that many of us may have a new appreciation for after two years of COVID-19 restrictions. Like humans, animals feel the desire to roam, to socialize, to play; to be free. Exotic animals retain the natural behavioural and biological needs that they would have in the wild, even when they are bred in captivity.

Because wild animals’ needs cannot be fully met in captivity, there have been instances of escapes and injuries as long as zoos have existed. Jason Hribal’s book Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance recounts dozens of incidents, including an elephant named Babe who attacked his trainer in 1915, causing fatal injuries. The Toledo Zoo responded by sawing off his tusks and, eventually, building a concrete pit in which to keep him in miserable confinement for his last two decades of life.

The Greater Vancouver Zoo in particular is no stranger to these welfare-related problems. This most recent incident is the latest in a series of issues that have garnered media attention in recent years. In 2019, a toddler was bitten by a black bear and had to be flown by air ambulance to hospital. Concerns about animal welfare at the zoo were later raised in public protests when a zoo visitor shared disturbing photos of an emaciated moose named Oakleaf. The moose was euthanized soon afterwards and the photos prompted an investigation by the BC SPCA.

The solution to these issues is clear, and yet the zoo has chosen to ignore it. A 2019 report commissioned by the Vancouver Humane Society recommends that where the zoo can’t satisfy an animal’s physical, psychological, or social needs, the animal should be relocated to a suitable sanctuary facility in a habitat more appropriate for their species. The report also highlights concerns surrounding the keeping of wild, exotic animals in a climate that is vastly different from their natural habitat; sub-optimal enclosures that are in some cases too small or lack shelter and privacy areas; as well as a lack of enrichment to encourage the expression of natural movements and behaviours.

The Greater Vancouver Zoo has not responded to these recommendations. Instead, its responses to incidents have continually failed to meet the needs of the animals it keeps. After the most recent incident, WorkSafeBC said that the zoo has “weld[ed] bars in at the bottom of the feeding chute”. The response is sadly reminiscent off Babe’s sawed-off tusks in 1915. While the bars help to protect workers from future injuries, they do nothing to address the root cause of the incident: the clear inability to meet the needs of the jaguar.

The zoo’s lack of action is, frankly, unacceptable. As a society, we know far more now about animal well-being and sentience than we did a century ago. We are long overdue to progress beyond the band-aid solutions of the past. We must do away with the archaic tradition of keeping wild animals on display in captivity.

Opinion Editorial

Discovery of dead wildlife demands further action on rodent poisons

Article originally published on Daily Hive.

Take action

Support a full ban on rodenticides in B.C.!

Earlier this year, wildlife protection advocates in BC cautiously celebrated news of a partial ban on second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides. Anticoagulant rodenticides cause a slow and painful death through internal bleeding for the animals that ingest them. The BC government cited the serious risks these highly toxic poisons pose to the public, pets and wildlife, and specifically banned – with many exemptions – types of poisons that are more potent to rats and wildlife alike.

As reports of dead and dying wildlife from suspected rodenticide poisoning have circulated in news headlines in recent years, the issue has gained much-needed attention and calls for a rodenticide ban have grown.

While the government’s announcement was a welcome first step, it has become increasingly evident that much more needs to be done to effectively address the widespread use of all inhumane and indiscriminate poisons, both first- and second-generation. The ban itself is incomplete, leaving a wide range of exemptions wherein second-generation poisons can continue to be used. It also leaves out other cruel and dangerous rodenticides, such as first-generation and non-anticoagulants.

Gaps in government ban leave wildlife at risk

First-generation rodenticides are called this because they have been used for many years and have begun to lose their effectiveness on rodents, while still having a negative impact if another animal eats a poisoned rat or mouse. This is called secondary poisoning. For example, two common first-generation anticoagulants, diphacinone and chlorophacinone, pose a high risk for secondary poisoning of wild mammals, cats and dogs. Veterinarians have also raised concerns about bromethalin, a neurotoxin with no specific antidote, yet its use as a rodenticide is still permitted.

At the time the partial ban was enacted, the province indicated that pest control operators would be informed about the new rules to ensure compliance. Yet, months later, the public continues to find bait boxes labeled as containing second-generation rodenticides in locations where they are prohibited, such as along the outside of residential buildings and offices.

Dead owl found outside Ministry of Environment building

Concern about the apparent lack of enforcement and compliance surrounding the ban turned to frustration when a dead great horned owl was found earlier this month near the Ministry of Environment building in Victoria. A closer look around the exterior of the building by a local wildlife protection advocate led to the discovery of rodent bait boxes with labelling that indicated they contained the poison bromadiolone – a second-generation poison in a location that would appear to be in violation of the ban. While the ministry has since responded, saying that an investigation determined that the labels on the bait boxes were incorrect and that they did not contain bromadiolone, the incident illustrates the issues surrounding the partial ban. How can the public be sure that bait boxes they encounter in their community are accurately labeled and in compliance with the partial ban?

Take action

Support a full ban on rodenticides in B.C.!

Number of dead owls remains unchanged despite partial rodenticide ban, says local wildlife rehabilitation organization

Meanwhile, owls and other birds of prey that commonly fall victim to rodenticides continue to show up at rehabilitation centres, raising concern that the partial ban may not be leading to intended changes for animals. BC-based OWL (Orphaned Wildlife) Rehabilitation Society has said that the number of owls that have died since the ban remains unchanged. A few years ago, a blood test study found that more than half of the animals in OWL’s care had poison residue in their system.

To effectively address and curtail rodenticide use, the provincial government must proactively enforce its current, partial ban on second-generation rodenticides. Additionally, as the government currently considers next steps regarding this issue, it is crucial that the lengthy list of exemptions be revisited and that the government ultimately phase out all types of rodenticides, in favour of humane alternatives and preventative measures that address the root causes of human-rodent conflict.

Poison-free alternatives offer a long-term solution

Addressing attractants, such as open garbage, compost bins, fallen fruit or bird seed, and fixing structural flaws and access points in buildings that provide sources of food and shelter for rodents is central to solving human-rodent conflicts. Meanwhile, a variety of poison-free alternatives for lethal management are available and new and innovative technologies are being tested and piloted in communities. Alternatives range from snap traps, to captive bolt traps, rodent contraceptives, and owl boxes that support the presence of natural predators – a family of owls can consume more than 1,000 rodents per year!

As awareness has grown surrounding the threats rodenticides pose and the suffering they cause, we can and must do better.

Take action

Support a full ban on rodenticides in B.C.!

Opinion Editorial

It’s time to boycott the dairy industry

Article originally published on Daily Hive.

The clock has been ticking in the dairy industry for a while, and a recent public scandal may be the time bomb that draws the dairy milk era to a close.

Footage leaked by Animal Justice shows cows being ruthlessly beaten and tormented allegedly at Cedar Valley Farms, a dairy farm in Abbotsford.

In the heartbreaking video, workers hit cornered cows in the face with canes; mother cows wail hauntingly and are kicked in the face by employees as their babies are roughly grabbed by their fragile legs, tossed into wheelbarrows, and rolled away to the slaughterhouse or to be raised for the same cruel fate.

While this blatant cruelty is the worst I have seen, it’s unfortunately nothing new. Animal abuse and suffering are endemic in the dairy industry. To fully understand why that is, we need to go back to the last headline-making video leak from a BC dairy farm.

In 2014, hidden cameras at Canada’s largest dairy farm in Chilliwack revealed horrific abuses. Video footage showed cows being punched, kicked, and beaten with chains and rakes; left to suffer with open wounds and without desperately needed veterinary care; and lifted up by their necks using chains and tractors.

In the ensuing public outcry, the eight employees involved were fired and many faced animal cruelty charges.

The incident prompted a more in-depth look into the dairy industry as a whole. Soon after, the National Farm Animal Care Council’s (NFACC) Code of Practice, which outlines appropriate treatment of the animals used on farms, was incorporated into legislation in BC. The industry also implemented a system of inspections to ensure farmers were complying with the regulations.

In droves, they weren’t.

Within the first 18 months of the new system being implemented, 27 percent of farms failed the inspections and required corrective action; 10 percent were still deemed non-compliant upon their follow-up inspection. Findings described farms with inadequate space for cows, including during the stressful birthing process; extremely limited access to feed troughs; wet and dirty pens; and cows showing such severe signs of lameness that they had to be euthanized.

At the time, industry leaders placated questioning consumers with supposed reasons for the non-compliance: farm owners simply didn’t know about the regulations or new methods. They floated goals of improved education, spot checks, and the ever-effective “peer pressure” to improve conditions.

It has been seven years since the dairy industry began conducting inspections with the goal of improving consumers’ confidence in the food they purchase. By now, the typical dairy buyer would expect the industry to have ironed out any kinks in their system. The most recent video leak has thrown a wrench directly into that carefully curated trust.

This year’s footage from Cedar Valley Farms is yet another reminder of what happens when sentient animals are treated as commodities for profit – “cash cows” in the most literal sense of the word.

It has revealed to consumers that cruelty is still rampant, that an organic label on an animal-based product doesn’t necessarily indicate an ethical purchase, and that ultimately the dairy industry cannot be trusted to self-regulate.

Consumer trust is hard to build when you can’t know if the animals whose bodies produced the milk were treated with respect. The milk used for commercial dairy products is typically “pooled” in BC, meaning if you purchase products like cheese, yogurt, ice cream, sour cream, or butter from the grocery store, it’s virtually impossible to tell which farm they came from.

There is also increasing awareness about the suffering inherent in the production of dairy. Cows don’t produce milk all the time; they produce it for their young, like humans and any other mammal. In order to ensure a consistent milk supply, the dairy industry repeatedly impregnates cows and removes their calves as early as just after birth. Calves reared without their mothers experience unnatural behavioural changes and drink far less milk from a bottle than they would otherwise. Their mothers experience an increased risk of mastitis when suckling is not allowed. Then, when the cows are no longer productive, they are typically sent to be slaughtered for meat between two and six years old. Their life expectancy outside of the industry is 15 to 20 years.

The dairy industry has been given endless chances to change for the better, and they have failed to do so again and again. Of course they have – there is money to be made in the status quo.

What this industry fails to realize is that humans do not need animal-based dairy. It is not a necessary part of the human diet, and all the nutrients it provides are found in other foods. With the increasing shift toward plant-based eating, there is a wider variety of delicious animal-free alternatives than ever.

Time is up for the dairy industry’s endless journey of supposed self-improvement. In a consumer society, only consumer action will spark a change. Only when people start reaching for oat milk instead of 2% or canola oil instead of butter will we see a breakthrough in the treatment of farmed animals. It’s time to vote with our wallets. It’s time to boycott animal-based dairy products.