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Give your views on bird welfare at the Bloedel Conservatory

The City of Vancouver is asking for public comment on the future of the Bloedel Conservatory, which houses more than 120 exotic birds. The Talk Vancouver survey (for which you need to register) provides an opportunity to ask the conservatory to ensure that the birds’ welfare is a priority in future plans. (The Vancouver Park Board and the Vancouver Botanical Gardens Association are collaborating to develop a joint strategic plan for VanDusen Garden and Bloedel Conservatory.) The survey closes February 10.

Specifically, you can ask that when birds are caged (as some birds are when introduced to the conservatory) they are provided with an enriched environment that meets their species-specific needs (e.g toys, puzzles, novel items, opportunity to bathe) to enhance their psychological welfare during this stressful transition time. Your views can help make sure exotic bird welfare is not forgotten in the Bloedel Conservatory’s strategic plan.

It’s important to note that the Conservatory’s website states that all the birds there “have either been directly donated to the Conservatory from homes that can no longer keep them or have been adopted from the GreyHaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary.”

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Challenging captivity

VHS has a long history of opposition to animal captivity. Most recently, we published a report, commissioned from Zoocheck, that drew attention to a number of issues at the Greater Vancouver Zoo.

The report found that animals at the zoo were suffering from boredom and frustration caused by the lack of activity and stimulation that comes with captivity.

In addition, the report identified animal enclosures that were too small, including cages for raptors (owls, hawks, kestrels) that provided no opportunity for flight. Tanks in the zoo’s reptile house were also found to be under-sized, preventing animals from engaging in natural behaviours.

A key finding was that a number of the zoo’s exotic animals are not suited to B.C.’s climate and should be moved to more appropriate facilities. In the longer term, the report recommended, the zoo should transition toward becoming a sanctuary for native species.

The report has received widespread media attention and many people joined our e-campaign calling on the zoo to address the issues it raises. Our opinion editorial in the Georgia Straight gives an overview of the psychological suffering experienced by captive animals at the Greater Vancouver Zoo and other zoos around the world.

The management of the Greater Vancouver Zoo has not responded directly to VHS or Zoocheck, but has told news media that it has plans to make changes and improvements over the next few years. It remains to be seen whether these changes will make a positive difference to the lives of the animals, but VHS will continue to monitor the zoo and draw public attention to their conditions and welfare.

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Are women and young people the best hope for fighting animal cruelty?

A recent poll of Canadians about a range of animal issues is cause for optimism in the animal protection movement.

The poll, by respected polling company Research Co., found that majorities of Canadians are opposed to using animals in rodeos (59%); hunting animals for sport (85%); keeping animals in zoos or aquariums (52%) and killing animals for their fur (75%).

These results are encouraging but they may contain even more positive news when the survey sample is broken down by age and gender.

On a number of these issues, higher percentages of women and younger people oppose the exploitation of animals (which is consistent with other polling on animal issues). For example, while 59% of all Canadians oppose using animals in rodeos, 67% of women and 64% of people aged 18-34 take that position. Similarly, while 52% of Canadians oppose keeping animals in zoos and aquariums, 56% of women and 56% of the 18-34 age group are opposed.

Even on the animal-related issue of eating meat, where a significant minority of Canadians (19%) oppose eating animals, the poll found opposition higher among women (22%) and those aged 18-34 (25%).

On a number of animal welfare issues polling shows greater opposition to animal exploitation among younger people.

All this may bode well for animals in the future, as the younger generation moves up the demographic ladder and replaces the older generation.

The same may be true of the support for animal welfare from women, but this could depend on whether women continue to gain more social power and status in fields such as politics and media. Progress in these areas has been slow.

In October 2019, Canada elected 98 women to the federal House of Commons. Women now represent 29% of the 338 elected Members of Parliament, up from 27% in the last parliament.  However, a recent report found that, based on the rate of change over the last five federal elections, it will take 87 years before gender parity is reached in our national elected chamber. There are currently no female provincial premiers.  Another study found that women accounted for just 29% of all people quoted in major Canadian media, compared to 71% for men.

While polls show women tend to be more supportive of animal welfare, the gender gap in politics and media suggests their voices may not be heard in the public discourse on animal issues. This photo of current provincial premiers illustrates why that might be the case.

If women and younger people gain stronger voices in Canada’s public discourse, it’s possible that animal welfare issues will garner more attention, and the opposition to the abuse and exploitation of animals will grow.  If so, the future for animals might be brighter than we think.

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Vancouver Zoo Incident Raises Captivity Issues

Black bear in zoo – Jo-Anne McArthur / Born Free Foundation

Last week, media reported that a two-year-old girl was hospitalized following an incident at the Greater Vancouver Zoo (GVZoo). Reports indicated the toddler was able to access an area not open to the public and was bitten through a fence by a black bear, leaving her with a broken arm and injuries to her hand. The B.C. Conservation Officer Service has since opened an investigation into the incident.

While GVZoo issued a statement over Twitter, including reference to its adherence “to the safety standards put forth by Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) to ensure the safety and well being of all patrons and our animals”, this means little considering that CAZA is a private zoo and aquarium industry association formed to represent its members’ interests. CAZA’s zoo and aquarium accreditation program amounts to the industry certifying and overseeing itself, which raises concerns about animal welfare, public safety and overall accountability and transparency within the industry.

In fact, some especially controversial zoos and aquariums have been given the CAZA stamp of approval, including African Lion Safari, an Ontario zoo that recently made headlines after being ranked in a World Animal Protection report as among the most cruel and outdated in the world. The CAZA-accredited facility offers elephant rides to guests, as well as the opportunity to pet elephants, take posed photos with them and watch them perform tricks. Shows, tricks and elephant rides are often associated with inhumane and traumatic training techniques while the practices themselves compromise the physical and psychological welfare of the animal and can present safety risks for guests. Earlier this summer, African Lion Safari was again in the news after a trainer was seriously injured in an incident with one of the zoo’s elephants.

Vancouver Humane has long-campaigned against the keeping of wild and exotic animals in captivity on the basis that their social, physiological and behavioural needs cannot be met in captivity. Captive animals often suffer due to a lack of space and enrichment, isolation, inappropriate social groupings and unsuitable environmental conditions. Depriving wild and exotic animals of the ability to perform instinctual behaviours in their natural habitat compromises their overall welfare and can lead to premature deaths.

GVZoo has a contentious history that reflects many of these issues, including but not limited to the 2015 death of a 15-month-old red panda, ‘Rakesh’, due to a fungal infection; the 2014 death of a two-year-old Siberian tiger, ‘Hani’, due to a lung infection; the deaths of three giraffes between 2011 and 2012; the 2009 stress-induced deaths of four zebras after two cape buffalos were placed inside their enclosure; the 2006 cruelty charge against GVZoo over the mistreatment of Hazina, a two-year-old hippo who had outgrown her pool and was kept for 15 months in a concrete holding pen with no outdoor access; and finally the high-profile and tragic story of Tina the elephant, who was kept for more than 30 years in a small, barren pen (many years of which she spent alone) and suffered from foot problems worsened by the ground in her enclosure. After a long-fought campaign by VHS and Zoocheck Canada and increased public pressure, Tina was transferred in 2003 to a sanctuary where she lived with other elephants and her foot condition improved, but sadly she died unexpectedly almost one year later of a sudden heart condition.

Vancouver Humane maintains that there are more ethical, effective and safe ways to engage in public education and wildlife conservation – the main claims that zoos and aquariums use to justify the keeping of wild and exotic animals in captivity. Alternatives include sanctuaries and wildlife rehabilitation centres, ethical eco-tours, documentaries and films (e.g. The Great Bear Rainforest IMAX film), and the use of immersive technology to offer interactive animal-free exhibits (e.g. National Geographic’s “Encounter: Ocean Odyssey”) to educate the public about wildlife and conservation issues.

As the public becomes increasingly aware of the welfare and safety issues associated with wild and exotic animal captivity, attitudes surrounding the practice are evolving. Canada’s recent ban on the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity illustrates this. It’s time for zoos and aquariums to embrace this new era and evolve as well.

 

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The Vancouver Aquarium needs a new vision

News that the Vancouver Aquarium is suing the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Park Board over the 2017 cetacean ban is a sad reminder that the aquarium remains out of step with changes in public attitudes and has no vision for the future that could reflect those changes.

With federal legislation banning cetacean captivity now the law of the land, the aquariums’s lawsuit seems particularly ill-timed and contrary to the spirit of the times.  It’s even more peculiar given that the aquarium itself said in 2018 that it would no longer keep whales and dolphins.

Still in the business of cetacean captivity

While the issue of cetacean captivity is largely settled, there remains much to be concerned about regarding the aquarium and its future direction.

First, the revelation that Ontario’s controversial Marineland amusement park is transferring two beluga whales owned by the Vancouver Aquarium to a facility in Valencia, Spain (which the aquarium manages), clearly demonstrates that it is still in the businesses of cetacean captivity.  They’re just not doing it in Stanley Park. The aquarium is also believed to own belugas kept at other facilities in the U.S. (Two belugas owned by the aquarium died at the notorious SeaWorld in 2015.)

The Valencia facility, L’Oceanogràfic, is the largest complex of its type in Europe and reportedly keeps 45,000 animals of 500 different species including fish, mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates. Its dolphinarium features two shows a day, with trained dolphins performing tricks for a large crowd. It’s clearly a place of entertainment.  While L’Oceanogràfic is a popular attraction it is not hard to find visitor reviews that are critical of animal welfare at the complex.

Facilities like Marineland, SeaWorld and L’Oceanogràfic represent everything that the Vancouver Aquarium should be moving away from. While the aquarium has done some rebranding, calling itself part of Ocean Wise, a “worldwide conservation organization” it remains primarily a place of entertainment, not conservation.

Restraints on speaking out against threats to marine life 

One of the most pressing marine conservation issues in B.C. is the potential extinction of B.C.’s Southern Resident killer whales.  The National Energy Board has admitted that the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline project will likely “cause significant adverse environmental effects on the Southern resident killer whale and on Indigenous cultural use associated with the Southern Resident killer whale.”  Conservation groups like the Raincoast Conservation Foundation have opposed the pipeline for this reason.  Yet, the Vancouver Aquarium’s voice is rarely heard in the pipeline debate.

Some fear that the aquarium’s reticence on such issues may be due to its links to business, especially to resource extraction industries. Mining company Teck donated $12.5 million to the aquarium in 2012 and one of its galleries is named for the company.  The Vancouver Board of Trade supported the aquarium in its fight to keep cetaceans in captivity, obviously cognizant of the tourist dollars the aquarium brings in. There is clearly a potential for a conflict of interest that would keep the aquarium out of important debates that are relevant to a genuine conservation role.

A drift toward becoming a zoo?

Another concern is the aquarium’s apparent “mission creep” toward becoming a zoo. It’s collection of 58,000 animals includes sloths, penguins, monkeys, snakes and macaws, which are hardly aquatic species. It would be unfortunate if this trend continued and the menagerie grew just to provide an additional attraction.

The Vancouver Aquarium, like all zoos and aquariums, justifies putting animals on display by claiming that they serve to educate and inspire people to value wildlife.  Yet there is little evidence to show that is the case.  There is, however, research to the contrary, as Zoocheck executive director Rob Laidlaw has stated: “There have been a number of studies examining how long zoo visitors look at animals. The results show that for some animals, particularly if they are not active, observation times can vary from about eight seconds to 90 seconds. There’s not much that can be learned about an animal in that length of time.”

Need for transparency

There is also a need for the aquarium to show greater transparency in its operations if it seeks to build public trust, especially as a conservation organization.  Its website states:

“Aquarium animals come to us from many places and in many different ways. Many animals arrive at the Aquarium as part of an exchange program with other large aquariums, zoos and universities. Most of the tropical fish are flown to the Aquarium from dealers around the world. The Aquarium tries to buy fish from sustainable fisheries and conservation-based associations, and only purchases from dealers who collect fish with nets, and not chemicals or explosives.

“Aquarium divers have permits to collect marine invertebrates including octopuses, sea stars, sea anemones and species of fish. Other collectors walk out from the beach with seine nets to gather local invertebrates and fishes. Many animals are also born into our care. Once in the Aquarium, animals normally live for many years.”

Who are these “dealers”?  How reputable are they and are they also involved in the exotic pet trade, which has damaged wildlife populations.  And there is the basic ethical question about removing animals from their natural habitat just to put them on public display. Who benefits? Certainly not the animals.

The aquarium should be transparent about where all its animals come from and how they are obtained. It should also be open about what happens to them after they become part of the collection. How many die prematurely?  Does the aquarium keep data on survival rates?

Opportunity for genuine change and new vision

The Vancouver Aquarium has an opportunity to do more than rebrand itself with name changes and new websites. But it needs to resolve the conflict between being a tourist attraction and a genuine conservation organization. 

There are ways forward. Some aquariums are moving away from making captive wildlife their star attractions. The Aquarium of the Pacific in California is opening a multi-million dollar “immersive theatre” that features “wind, fog, scent and vibrating seats to storms playing out on a massive, two-story-tall screen.” The theatre is part of a new “Pacific Visions” wing designed to “explore pressing environmental issues and suggest alternative pathways to a sustainable future.”

Hawaii’s Maui Ocean Centre, which has no captive cetaceans recently launched a digital “Humpbacks of Hawaii” exhibit using the integration of 4k imagery, 3D active glasses and a 7.1 surround sound system. The centre says the exhibit “transports guests deep into the ocean, giving them an inside look into the complex and vibrant lives of Maui’s humpback whales, and allowing them to forge new connections with one of nature’s greatest marvels.”

The aquarium could develop a vision for the future that is based on genuine education and conservation. It could employ the latest technology to make learning about marine life exciting and compelling.  It could use its voice to contribute to debates about real threats to B.C.’s coastal waters.

It could also invest in research about some of the big questions surrounding marine life. One of most recent and most profound of these has been the question of fish sentience.  The latest research shows that, contrary to previous perceptions, fish feel pain.  What are the implications of this?  The Vancouver Aquarium could be at the forefront of discussions about such big issues.

And why doesn’t the aquarium explore cooperation with the U.S.-based Whale Sanctuary Project, which has considered the B.C. coast as a possible a site for a sanctuary? There would be huge public support for the aquarium’s involvement.

It’s time the Vancouver Aquarium left the entertainment industry behind and became something much more valuable: A beacon to help guide us through the challenges that face our seas and a champion of the precious marine life they contain.  That is what Vancouver – and the world – needs, not just another place to see captive animals living out their lives in tanks.

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The truth about animals in captivity

Captive Sun Bear. Photo: Rob Laidlaw

 

On March 27, VHS hosted a presentation in Vancouver by Rob Laidaw, executive director of Zoocheck, on animals in captivity. 

Titled Nature in a box: the paradoxical and dangerous world of zoos and aquariums, Laidlaw’s talk was a compelling indictment of the captive animal industry.  Drawn from his own research and long experience of monitoring the industry, including visiting hundreds of zoos and aquariums around the world, the case against captivity was overwhelming. Below are some of the key points from the presentation.

Space, freedom and family

A major criticism of captive animal facilities concerns lack of space for animals, which Laidlaw explained is often not obvious to visitors:

“Space is a core consideration for nearly all captive animals, yet it’s something that is often overlooked, ignored or even dismissed by many animal caretakers. Some claim that animals don’t need a lot of space because they only travel when they are looking for food. Therefore, they say that if food is provided, the animals don’t bother traveling. That’s a myopic and unscientific perspective because animals are known to move around for a diversity of reasons, not just to find food. And when adequate space isn’t provided, there can be detrimental physical, psychological and social consequences to the animals. All animals should be provided with the largest living spaces possible. There’s no such thing as a cage that is too big.”

VHS hosted Rob Laidlaw’s March 27 talk, which drew a crowd eager to hear about the plight of captive animals. Photo: Emily Pickett.

Captive animals also lose the ability to make choices because of their restricted and often barren environments, which are damaging to their welfare.  Laidlaw described how they’re also deprived of their natural social context, such as being part of a family or larger social grouping.

“In addition to space, additional critical quality of life considerations include freedom of choice, proper social context and stimulation and activity, but these too are often given short shrift. When that happens animals suffer physically and they also suffer psychologically, as they can experience negative emotional states, like boredom, frustration, anxiety, fear and anger.  All aspects of animal welfare should be considered if the interests and wellbeing of the animals are a priority.”
Laidlaw recounted an experience that perfectly contrasted the lives animals have in nature versus the deprivation they experience in captivity. While visiting a zoo he noticed a non-captive lizard roaming the facility’s grounds, later finding the same species on display.

“After observing that changeable lizard moving about freely, running, climbing and foraging, and then seeing it’s captive counterpart in a tiny, glass-fronted exhibit unable to engage in any natural movements or behaviours, I realized just how abnormal the situation of the captive was. Nature should be what’s considered normal, not the animal in the cage.”

Zoos’ claims about “education” lack evidence

It’s common for zoos and aquariums to claim that they provide “education” about the animals they display, but Laidlaw said there was little evidence this was true and cited research that clearly contradicts such claims.

“There have been a number of studies examining how long zoo visitors look at animals. The results show that for some animals, particularly if they are not active, observation times can vary from about eight seconds to 90 seconds. There’s not much that can be learned about an animal in that length of time.”

He gave a sad example to illustrate the point:

 “My colleague was visiting a large Canadian zoo to see a bittern, a relatively small wading bird, in one of the zoo’s indoor pavilions. He decided to time how long people actually looked at the bittern. While he expected visitor observation times to be short since the bittern wasn’t one of the zoo’s popular, charismatic mega-vertebrates, like lions, bears and elephants, he was still astounded when the average length of time the bittern was observed turned out to be less than one second. In fact, most people just glanced as they walked by, even when the bird was pointed out to them.”

The future: alternatives to traditional zoo model

Laidlaw ended his presentation with a description of some alternative concepts to zoos and aquariums and a call for change.

“The traditional zoo model, with its relatively unfettered viewing of animals and mass-market entertainment approach is outdated and no longer makes sense. There are many new exciting kinds of facilities and technologies that should replace traditional zoos. They include regionally-focused wildlife facilities, multi-disciplinary centers, sanctuaries, specialist education and conservation facilities, virtual zoos and innovative interactive film technologies.”

The nearly 100 people attending the talk, judging by their enthusiastic applause, left with new insights into what life is like for captive animals, and, perhaps, a new-found desire to work for an end to the places where they are incarcerated.

VHS has long fought for animals in captivity, exposing poor treatment of animals at the Greater Vancouver Zoo and opposing cetacean captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium, including publishing this joint report with Zoocheck.

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A Whale Sanctuary in BC?

Renowned neuroscientist Dr. Lori Marino spoke to the public about the Whale Sanctuary Project at an event presented by the Vancouver Humane Society and the BC SPCA on July 11th. She and the executive director of the project, Charles Vinick, were in British Columbia looking at possible sites for the sanctuary.

The theme of the evening at the Roundhouse in Vancouver was “Reconciliation”, which was introduced by Bob Chamberlin, Chief Councilor of the Kwicksutaineuk Ah-kwa-mish First Nation. Chief Chamberlin discussed the reconciliation between Canada and its First Nations people, and how this should expand towards a reconciliation between all humans and the natural world. Recognition of this planet as a living being, and respecting the animals and nature, is a necessary step towards this reconciliation.

Dr. Marino continued on this theme by describing the Whale Sanctuary Project, which aims to create a seaside sanctuary for formerly captive cetaceans (whales and dolphins) that maximizes the well-being and autonomy of its residents. It will create an environment as close as possible to their natural habitat.

Other sites under consideration are along the coasts of Washington State and Nova Scotia.  There is a thorough list of requirements that a site must meet and Dr. Marino and her team have been working closely with First Nations communities to ensure that the project is adopted rather than tolerated. They hope to complete the site selection portion of this project by the end of the year. 

Once the sanctuary site has been selected they will begin a three-phase process to ensure it is ready for its first resident by 2019. They will first focus on development of infrastructure and veterinary facilities, followed by administration and housing. The final phase will develop educational and visitor programs. The sanctuary will allow the public to see cetaceans in a natural setting and will focus on education and conservation, not entertainment. Dr. Marino and her team believe a sanctuary is about the animals, not about the people, and they will work to create a better life for these highly intelligent animals.

Learn More!

 

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The truth behind animal businesses

tiger iStock_000003062690Medium (2)

In recent weeks, two news stories have emerged that illustrate how businesses that exploit animals cultivate images of legitimacy while hiding a dark reality.

In B.C., the case of Mike Hopcraft, who has promoted himself as the “Reptile Guy”, made headlines when his facility in Mission was raided by the BC SPCA and a number of animals were seized.  Hopcraft claims to rescue and rehabilitate animals and is often featured on morning news shows as a reptile rescue expert.  Yet court documents obtained by Animal Justice tell a different story.

Caiman iStock_000000587920Large

In a blog post, Animal Justice says the documents describe what was found in the BC SPCA raid:  “Investigators repeatedly found dead animals, animals in such severe distress that they needed to be euthanized, infected and injured animals, emaciated and underweight animals, unsanitary tanks, overcrowding, cramped conditions, mouldy feces in tanks with live animals, animals with no water or undrinkable water, exposed wires, and broken lights.”   The post says the court documents also stated: “When Hopcraft was informed [two emaciated animals, one with four broken legs] were going to be seized he kicked a chair across the office and was escorted outside by the RCMP.”

 

In another revealing case, Michael Hackenberger, owner of Ontario’s Bowmanville Zoo was exposed allegedly abusing a tiger.  In an undercover video taken by PETA, Hackenberger uses a whip to motivate a male Siberian tiger called Uno.  In a so-called rebuttal to the video, Hackenberger admits to striking him twice, as quoted in the Toronto Star: “Maybe I viciously whipped the ground. Maybe I viciously whipped the air, but I did not viciously whip that tiger,” he said. “I didn’t strike the tiger except twice to get him turned around.”  In another undercover video, Hackenberger talks about training wolves, stating: “You smack ’em and they generally fold like a house of cards.”

Yet the Bowmanville Zoo, which is accredited by CAZA (Canada’s Accredited Zoos & Aquariums), attracts thousands of visitors and even praise in the media.  Positive PR and marketing by the zoo has convinced many people that it really cares about animals.  But when the veil slips, a disturbing reality is revealed.

iStock_000000747069LargeOver the years, VHS has seen a number of animal businesses exposed for what they really are.  In 2010, Cinemazoo, an animal rental agency based in Surrey, was investigated for animal cruelty by the BC SPCA.  The agency was forced to transfer a number of animals to more appropriate facilities.  It is still in operation, renting out animals for advertising, birthday parties and corporate events.

In 2009, VHS was instrumental in exposing animal abuse at the Mountain View Conservation and Breeding Centre in Langley, leading to cruelty charges being recommended by the BC SPCA.  Crown Counsel declined to proceed with charges but the centre divested itself of most of its exotic species. Prior to the revelations, the centre was said to have a “superb” record and was also CAZA accredited.

And who can forget the 2010 massacre of 56 sled dogs in Whistler, B.C.? Robert Fawcett, an employee of Howling Dog Tours Whistler Inc. was sentenced to three years’ probation in 2012 for causing unnecessary pain and suffering to nine of the dogs. Fawcett claimed he had been ordered to cull the company’s herd of dogs when tourist demand dropped off after the 2010 Winter Olympics.  Until the incident, the sled dog tour industry retained a rosy image of dogs pulling sleds of happy tourists through a winter wonderland.  But the attention brought by the case revealed the industry practice of culling unwanted sled dogs and the outdoor tethering of dogs for long periods.

sled dog iStock_000015556155Medium

 

While Mr. Fawcett was portrayed as a “bad apple” by the industry, in fact he served as vice-president on the board of Mush with Pride, a leading international sled dog industry group (until he was voted off when the Whistler massacre became public knowledge).  He was a well-known and leading figure in the sled dog world.

These revealing incidents should serve as a reminder to the public that businesses that use animals for profit need to be constantly scrutinized and their claims should be treated with extreme scepticism.  Anyone who patronizes zoos, aquariums, circuses, rodeos, sled dog tours or races, horse races and other animal entertainment businesses should realize that the positive images they are sold are unlikely to match the harsh reality the animals experience.

When animals are treated as commodities their welfare will always be compromised.

 

 

 

 

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‘Vancouver Aquarium Uncovered’ Documentary

 

Vancouver-Aquarium-Uncovered

Local filmmaker Gary Charbonneau delivers a controversial documentary on the Vancouver Aquarium’s rescue and captivity program. There will be a screening of the film, “Vancouver Aquarium Uncovered” on Sunday, Sept.13th, 7:30pm at the Vancouver Public library.

VHS opposes the keeping of wild animals for public display, as it deprives them of the ability to freely engage in instinctual behaviours in their natural environment. Even when bred in captivity, exotic animals retain the behavioural and biological needs that they would have in the wild. They cannot be considered domesticated and they can suffer if they are confined in unnatural environments. Here’s our Q&A with Gary:

VHS: Was there a defining moment or a catalyst that inspired you to get involved in the issue of cetaceans in captivity?

Gary: While attending a public hearing on cetacean captivity I became suspicious and concerned with the remarks and comments being made by the Vancouver Aquarium and their associates.

VHS: What do you want to be the biggest take away for those who see the film?

Gary: A better understanding of conservation, rescue and rehabilitation and a demand for greater transparency. A conservation centre such as the Vancouver Aquarium cannot have a higher infant death rate than in the wild nor should they have a breeding program that, in my opinion, has not aided wild cetaceans in their 50 year existence. This is completely contrary to conservation itself. As a city we need to define what this term stands for and further our understanding of the programs at the aquarium.

VHS: What has the response been like to the film, following its first screening?

Gary: Incredible. People learned a great deal on this issue. Their eyes were opened to the complicit association, fund allocation, misinformation and most importantly the true facts of the rescue and breeding programs. As one person said to me “Is this what I’ve been supporting all these years?”

VHS: What do you think has spurred the change in public sentiment over the captivity of whales and dolphins?

Gary: The film Blackfish really exposed the lengths aquariums go to in deceiving the public for profit. In my research I’ve also realized the connections that go far beyond the inner circle of North American aquariums. I have professors, researchers and biologists still contacting me today providing facts, data and personal experience on this lucrative captive business. Even more disheartening is most have asked me not to mention their names because they fear the power this industry has. I’ve also noticed this with news media as well. I’ll ask everyone right now, has anyone heard anything of this film on TV, radio or newspaper? The answer is no because they won’t touch this. Thus far all have turned down mentioning my film. One reporter told me I’m going to have a hard time because they’re interconnected to the aquarium whether through business or advertising. It’s quite sad actually because it’s the whales and dolphins who are suffering.

VHS: What do you suggest the public can do to help with this issue?

Gary: The public doesn’t realize they are the answer. Around the world these aquatic circuses are not only ending, they’re being banned. This is due to public pressure. Vancouverites need to have their voices heard and force the aquarium to update its model.

VHS: Theres been talk recently that Vancouver might be the ideal site for the worlds first sea sanctuary – a place for captive cetaceans to go if released from marine parks but unable to survive in the wild. What are your thoughts on that idea?

Gary: Sea sanctuaries are the future for rehabilitation and release. They will also provide increased space, depth and a more natural environment for those cetaceans who cannot survive in the wild. There are people who oppose the idea of sea pens or ocean sanctuaries but let’s not forget, there was a time when there were no elephant, primate or big cat sanctuaries and look at their success today. Furthermore, all of these were also thought to be impossible, with strong opposition.

VHS: In your research for the film, what did you find most disturbing about the captivity issue? What did you find most inspiring?

Gary: The infant death rate! Absolutely unbelievable, this literally stunned me and everyone who’s seen the film. It is completely unconscionable for the Vancouver Aquarium to call itself a conservation centre when its infant death rate is astronomically higher than in the wild, this makes no sense.

The most inspiring is the proof that aquariums who have moved away from captivity are doing better financially, provide higher levels of education through technology and interactivity and have demonstrated true conservation efforts. Aquariums such as Monterey Bay in California, Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto, Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in B.C. are a few examples.

VHS: What was the most challenging part of making the documentary?

Gary: Containing my emotions. During the repetitive process of editing you are continually reminded of the deaths, short lifespans and the psychological stress on these poor creatures. It is exceptionally difficult to stay focused.

VHS: Did you have a strong opinion on the issue of captivity prior to doing research for this film? Has making the film changed your opinion on other animal protection issues?

Gary: I’m not a proponent of animals performing tricks even for rescue or rehabilitation because duplicitous organizations will use conservation as a guise for exploitation. However, I was open to learn whether the Vancouver Aquarium was genuinely learning about and aiding whales and dolphins.

Completing this film has unquestionably affirmed that genuine rescue and rehabilitation shouldn’t require animals to perform. Any institution or non-profit organization who states it’s necessary to sell tickets in order to protect or preserve a species is either mismanaged or deceitful.

VHS: How can people see the documentary? 

Gary: A screening is being held on Sept 13th at the Vancouver Public Library. Sometime after this date the film will be released online at www.vancouveraquariumuncovered.com. I feel it’s important to note, this is a non-profit film and will be released for free. I want everyone to learn the truth and help the aquarium improve and move into a superior direction.

VHS: What specific actions would you like to see the Vancouver Aquarium take moving forward, in regards to whales and dolphins in captivity?

Gary: The goal of my film is to enhance the Vancouver Aquarium and make it the most advanced and educational marine centre in the world. The aquarium is about to spend millions of dollars expanding their tanks when that money should be used towards technology, innovation and expanding their much needed Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.

For more info:

www.vancouveraquariumuncovered.com

www.facebook.com/VancouverAquariumUncovered

Categories
animal welfare News/Blog Promoted zoo

No new zoo for Surrey, BC

Great news! The City of Surrey has informed the Vancouver Humane Society that in spite of news reports that the city is considering providing property at little or no cost to Cinemazoo and the Urban Safari Rescue Society for a new exotic animal zoo in Surrey, there have been no plans submitted for consideration. At this time, the concept has not been advanced as a formal proposal and even if it was, there would be a full public process before any decisions were made whether or not to support the plan.

We’ll keep you posted. Thank you for all your emails and support on this issue!

Zookeeper Gary Oliver, who has met with the City, has been keeping and renting out exotic animals like alligators and iguanas in the Lower Mainland for many years. He operates a business called Cinemazoo and claims to be concerned about conservation and habitat. Cinemazoo not only rents out animals to the entertainment industry, but takes exotic animals to private homes for birthday parties, as well as holding parties at the facility.

They also take exotics into classrooms referring to it as ‘education’, encouraging children to handle the animals. This only teaches children that animals are here for our entertainment. In 2004 and 2010 Oliver was investigated by the BC SPCA and the provincial Ministry of the Environment for concerns relating to the welfare of the animals in his care.

VHS is opposed to the keeping of exotic animals because it is impossible to provide them with a natural environment in which they can perform natural behaviours. Whether or not they were captive-bred, they have still evolved to a very specific set of environmental circumstances which is impossible to replicate in captivity. The Vancouver Humane Society contacted the City of Surrey to oppose the establishment of yet another zoo.