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Open letter: B.C.’s wild and exotic animal captivity rules due for update

VHS and residents from across B.C. and Canada call for better protections for wild and exotic animals

Last month, VHS launched a campaign seeking changes to B.C.’s rules around wild and exotic animal captivity. To date, the petition demanding immediate action to protect animals from suffering in zoos and aquariums has received more than 4,700 signatures.

VHS has now shared that petition with provincial decision-makers, along with a request for a meeting and an open letter outlining our recommendations for updating B.C.’s outdated regulations around wild and exotic animal captivity.

The open letter calls on the B.C. government to:

  • Incorporate animal welfare criteria into considerations around species suitability for captivity
  • Prevent bringing in new exotic animals into permanent captivity and prohibit captive breeding of existing captive exotic animals
  • Close loopholes in current provincial regulations that leave out many species
  • Acknowledge and act on growing body of science that indicates wild and exotic animals suffer psychologically in captivity

You can read the full letter below as a PDF, or scroll down to add your name to the growing call for change and view the open letter on this page. We will keep ministry decision-makers updated on the total number of public signatures in support of the campaign, and will keep you updated on the campaign’s progress.

April-2022-VHS-Captivity-Briefing-Note

By signing the petition, you call on the B.C. government to:

  • Expand the Controlled Alien Species regulation criteria to include animal welfare considerations and update the CAS list to include and prohibit the keeping, breeding and transporting of all exotic species for permanent captivity.
  • Adopt a positive list approach, which allows only those species that meet certain evidence-based suitability criteria to be kept, bred and transported.
  • No longer allow permits to be issued for the keeping, breeding and transporting of exotic animal species, including for zoos and aquariums, film and tv industry, and research and education institutions;
  • Relocate to more appropriate facilities, animals whose physical, psychological and/or social needs are not being adequately met in captivity and/or those who are not appropriate for B.C.’s climate.
  • If no suitable alternatives exist, allow exotic species currently kept in captivity to remain, but prohibit captive breeding of exotic species.
  • Restrict captive breeding of native wildlife, unless it is part of a reintroduction program into the wild.
  • Maintain records for all individual wild and exotic captive animals in facilities, including information related to origin, import/export, breeding, births, deaths, and transport history.
  • Require emergency management plans for all wild and/or exotic animals in captivity.

Call for changes to wild & exotic animal captivity rules in B.C.

Discussion & recommendations for updating B.C.’s wild and exotic animal regulations 

Summary of recommendations 

  • Expand the Controlled Alien Species regulation criteria to include animal welfare considerations and update the CAS list to include and prohibit the keeping, breeding and transporting of all exotic species for permanent captivity. If no suitable alternatives exist, allow exotic species currently kept in captivity to remain; 
  • Adopt a positive list approach, which allows only those species that meet certain evidence-based suitability criteria to be kept, bred and transported; 
  • No longer allow permits to be issued for the keeping, breeding and transporting of exotic animal species, including for zoos and aquariums, film and tv industry, and research and education institutions; 
  • Relocate to more appropriate facilities, animals whose physical, psychological and/or social needs are not being adequately met in captivity and/or those who are not appropriate for B.C.’s climate. 
  • Prohibit captive breeding of exotic species. 
  • Restrict captive breeding of native wildlife, unless it is part of a reintroduction program into the wild. 
  • Maintain records for all individual wild and exotic captive animals in facilities, including information related to origin, import/export, breeding, births, deaths, and transport history.  
  • Require emergency management plans for all wild and/or exotic animals in captivity. 

Introduction 

The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) is a registered charity dedicated to the humane treatment of animals. The VHS has identified that the keeping, breeding and transport of wild and exotic animals (wild animals not native to B.C.) for the purposes of permanent captivity is not in the public interest. 

Background 

Psychological impact of captivity 

Society’s understanding of how wild and exotic animals can suffer in captivity has expanded greatly over the years. Consider that around the time Canada’s first SPCA was founded in 1869, much of the focus was on the treatment of work horses, used routinely as transportation in cities at the time. Efforts were focused on preventing physical mistreatment of animals, but much less was known then about the psychological suffering of animals. Nearly 150 years later, in 2017, the Vancouver Park Board prohibited new cetacean (whales, dolphins and porpoises) captivity and performances in city parks, citing that the display of these intelligent and social mammals was no longer ethical. This decision, along with ground-breaking federal legislation in 2019 that similarly banned cetacean captivity, acknowledged the scientific evidence that reflects how confinement in captivity causes not only physical, but also psychological suffering.  

Today, a vast body of scientific literature outlines that good welfare is about more than just an animal’s basic health and functioning, such as freedom from pain, injury or disease. Good welfare goes beyond this to consider an animal’s ability to live naturally, including engaging in important instinctual behaviours, as well as an animal’s emotional state and their ability to engage in positive experiences, such as play and social contact.  

Wild and exotic animals, whether wild-caught or captive-bred, retain their complex social, physiological and behavioural needs that they would have in the wild. Attempting to replicate their natural environment in a captive setting is incredibly challenging and failure to meet their needs can significantly compromise their welfare. 

Scientific research, including studies published since B.C. implemented the Controlled Alien Species regulation in 2009, outlines how wild and exotic animals suffer in captivity when deprived of the ability to live naturally and experience positive affective states. Captive conditions are known to elicit abnormal behaviour across a range of different species, due to an animal’s inability to cope with stressors, behavioural frustration or psychopathology.  

Stressors in captivity can include exposure to aversive sounds and smells; uncomfortable temperatures or substrates; artificial lighting; restricted movement; inability to escape from public view and from other animals; artificial social groupings; and inability to engage in instinctive behaviours. Captive animals are often kept in climates and exposed to temperatures that their species is not adapted to, which can cause distress and impact their behaviour. Studies suggest that thermal ranges are complex and can differ based on the species, developmental age, weight and number of animals being housed. This makes temperature control especially challenging for captive facilities.  

Chronic stress in captive animals can lead to health problems including weight loss, immune system changes, disease susceptibility, reproductive suppression, premature death and high infant mortality rates. For example, studies indicate that giraffes have shorter lifespans in captivity than in the wild. Cheetahs in Western captive facilities have been found to experience reproductive issues, including high infant mortality rates. They also exhibit elevated cortisol levels and are more susceptible than their wild counterparts to bacteria that causes severe gastritis. Captive penguin species are also more likely than wild penguins to experience Aspergillosis, a stress-related fungal infection.

Responses to chronic stress can also present as stereotypical behaviour, which is repetitive, purposeless and an indicator of poor psychological well-being and poor general welfare. This can include stereotypic ritualistic behaviour like pacing or head-tossing; self-directed behaviours, like feather-plucking or over-grooming; or externally directed behaviors, like aggression toward other animals. Stereotypy is a major issue for zoos and aquariums. In fact, approximately 75% of the captive giraffe population in North America exhibits oral stereotypic behaviours, including wall licking. Stereotypy is also estimated to occur in the vast majority, approximately 82%, of captive carnivores.

These behaviours, which are common in captivity but almost never take place in the wild, are often referred to as zoochosis. This chronic inability to cope with stressors and/or behavioural frustration can also lead to significant cognitive issues in captive animals. Research explains that “…these states may result in physiological stress and the release of cortisol into the circulatory system…Specifically, circulating cortisol may act upon the hippocampus in the brain, resulting in temporary amnesia and inhibition of learning or response to new experiences (e.g., enrichment or behavioral modification)…In addition, chronic exposure of the hippocampus to circulating cortisol may accelerate hippocampal degeneration, a normal ageing change associated with senile cognitive dysfunction or dementia-like syndromes which have been described in apes, canids and felids.” In the wild, the stress-response allows an animal to make decisions and escape dangerous situations, but in captivity there is little to no ability for an animal to make such choices when stressed. This chronic stress can lead to “learned helplessness”, a psychological condition whereby individuals learn that they have no control over their environment. This can result in negative behavioural and physiological consequences, including impacting brain health by compromising the functioning of the hippocampus, amygdala, neurons and serotonin, which regulate memory, emotions, movement, behaviour, and mood. 

Addressing the psychological suffering of captive wild and exotic animals is incredibly challenging, particularly when we consider that for some species the evidence of suffering can be very subtle or undetectable by humans (e.g. outside of our audible range). In addition to this, new research suggests that abnormal behaviour repertoires and the behavioural expression of stress can also vary between individuals of the same species, adding further complexity to the issue.

Government responsibility 

Public sentiment around wild and exotic animal captivity has also been shifting in recent years, with growing concern about the welfare of animals in captive environments. This is reflected in research that indicates good welfare in zoos and aquariums is valued by the general public. The same research found a high rate of willingness among zoo visitors to pay for animal welfare improvements. Another study found “dissatisfaction of zoo staff with executive management and government officials’ knowledge and leadership in promoting good animal welfare.” The study suggests that leadership in prioritizing animal welfare is also needed at the level of government ministries responsible for overseeing captive facilities. These studies highlight the government’s responsibility to address animal well-being, as instances of abnormal behaviour have been minimized by facilities holding captive animals. For example, when asked why a Steller sea lion at the Vancouver Aquarium was repetitively sucking on the substrate of their enclosure, an aquarium representative explained it as a “comforting behaviour the animals like to do after eating”, comparing it to a baby sucking their thumb.  

Locally, recent public polling data reveals that 89% of British Columbians oppose the international trade of exotic, wild animals to be kept on display in permanent captivity in zoos and aquariums. This reinforces that protecting the welfare of captive animals is indeed in the public interest and there is an expectation that the provincial government, as the regulator of wild and exotic animals in captivity in B.C., has a responsibility to prioritize this. The protection of animal welfare is a widely shared value in our society, as evidenced by its inclusion in our laws, but it’s not being consistently applied. Given the obligation under our existing laws to not knowingly harm animals; the leadership of other levels of government to respond to changing public sentiment and animal welfare considerations; and the scientific evidence outlining the harm that non-domesticated animals face as a direct result of captivity, it follows that the provincial government has the moral responsibility to better protect wild and exotic animals in captivity.    

Zoonosis concerns 

The Covid-19 pandemic also put a spotlight on the wildlife trade and its connection to infectious disease risk. In fact, research indicates that 75% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic (transmitted from non-human animals to humans). The international trade of animals, including for captive facilities, increases the risk of disease spread. Factors that increase the risk of disease spread include more animal species; higher risk species; more animal numbers; more human contact; greater geographic ranges; movement from less encountered areas; species we know less about; mixing of species (in transit, upon arrival); less structure/scrutiny. These factors directly relate to captive facilities like the Greater Vancouver Zoo and Vancouver Aquarium, where large numbers of animals, from a variety of species and geographic ranges that would otherwise not occur in such proximity to each other are kept.  

Covid-19 cases or evidence of exposure has been confirmed in a number of captive species, including tigers, lions, puma, snow leopards, Canada lynx, jaguars, Asian small-clawed otters, gorillas, mink, white-tailed deer, ferrets, binturongs, fishing cats, coatimundi, spotted hyenas, and hippopotamus.

Local context 

The VHS has monitored the issue of wild and exotic animal captivity in B.C. for many years, dating back to 1997, with the first report about the Greater Vancouver Zoo published by VHS and Zoocheck. Subsequent reports were published in 2003, 2008, and most recently in 2019. Common recurring issues throughout the reports include observed abnormal behaviour by animals; inappropriate housing of social species; enclosure conditions; water-logging and dampness of outdoor exhibits; lack of enrichment; and breeding practices. Recurring recommendations have included ending the keeping of exotic species; providing more enclosure space and complexity; improved enrichment; housing according to social needs; and ending captive breeding.  

The VHS has also advocated over the years for changes at the Vancouver Aquarium, including supporting a move away from cetacean (whale, dolphin and porpoise) captivity. Through a report, “A Crumbling Case for Cetacean Captivity”, claims that cetacean captivity resulted in substantive conservation research and education benefits was critically assessed. The report concluded that the output of captive cetacean research papers was relatively low and a citation analysis largely suggested that impacts were not substantive. The educational benefit of captive cetaceans was also not substantiated. The report went on to note that stated goals of conservation and education made by zoos, marine parks and aquariums can be achieved, and in many instances are being achieved, in other ways that do not require the keeping of live cetaceans in captivity. It’s also worth noting that in terms of research on captive animals, they can respond quite differently to a range of experiments than a wild, free-living counterpart would. This reinforces the importance of prioritizing field research and the conservation benefits of studying species in the wild. 

The VHS has encouraged both facilities to transition toward a sanctuary model, focused on rescue, rehabilitation and release programs for injured and orphaned native wildlife and to assist and support conservation efforts of native, wild populations. 

Provincial definitions and regulation of wild and exotic species 

The keeping, breeding and transport of wild and exotic animals is governed under British Columbia’s Wildlife Act and its regulations.  

Under the Wildlife Act, the definition of “wildlife” includes raptors, threatened species, endangered species, game and other species of vertebrates prescribed by regulation, and for the purposes of a number of specific sections, also includes fish. The definition of “game” includes big game, small game, game birds and fur bearing animals, and other species prescribed as game. The Designation and Exemption Regulation lists several schedules of species, noting that Schedule A are prescribed as wildlife for the purposes of the definition of “wildlife” in section 1 of the Wildlife Act. Schedule B lists animals that may be captured or killed only for the specific purpose of protecting property unless an open season is designated by regulation. Schedule C lists animals that can be captured or killed anywhere and at any time in B.C. A hunting licence is not needed to hunt or kill Schedule C animals, unless a person is hunting the following species on their property or they are damaging the person’s property: crows, black-billed magpie, and brown-headed cowbird. Schedule D lists threatened species, with sea otters as the only species currently listed. Schedule E lists endangered species, including the Vancouver Island marmot, burrowing owl and American white pelican. Under the Wildlife Act Permit Regulation, a permit can be issued to possess and transport live wildlife.

Under this framework, the definition of “wildlife” excludes exotic animals, a number of species of which are designated as “controlled alien species” under a separate regulation by the Wildlife Act. Section 6.4 of the Wildlife Act states that the minister can designate a non-native species that poses a risk to the health or safety of any person or poses a risk to property, wildlife or wildlife habitat as a controlled alien species. The minister may by regulation prohibit and impose requirements in relation to the possession, breeding, release, selling and transporting of a controlled alien species. B.C.’s Controlled Alien Species Regulation currently designates more than 1,000 exotic species as controlled alien species, prohibiting that they be kept, bred or transported without a CAS permit. Permits are allowed for accredited or equivalent zoos and aquariums; certified research and educational institutions; film and tv production companies; rescue facilities; and prohibited animals passing through the province in transit. Private individuals still have sunset permits and if they want to transfer ownership to another person, can apply for permit. 

Bill S-241 

Recently proposed federal legislation, Bill S-241 (Jane Goodall Act), aims to improve protections for captive animals across Canada. The bill prohibits owning, breeding, importing/exporting and interprovincial transport, and possessing reproductive materials for a wide range of species, including big cats, bears, wolves, seals, sea lions, walruses, certain monkeys, and dangerous reptiles, such as crocodiles and giant pythons. It provides exceptions for existing individual animals currently in captivity; for those in need of rehabilitation; for the purpose of conducting non-harmful scientific research or in the best interest of the animal, with regard to individual welfare and conservation of the species.   

Bill S-241 also prohibits the captivity of the listed species for entertainment purposes; phases out captivity of elephants; and restricts captivity of great apes to specific organizations for the purpose of conservation and research only. It also identifies seven organizations that have been deemed in the bill to be eligible animal care organizations, including the Vancouver Aquarium but no other facilities in B.C.  

It outlines a number of factors to be considered when adding or removing a species from the list of designated animals subject to the prohibitions and references consultation with representatives of groups whose objective includes the promotion of animal welfare. Considerations listed include whether the biological and ecological needs of individual animals to live a good life can be met in captivity, specifically their ability to engage in natural behaviour; their intelligence, emotions, social requirements, physical size, lifestyle and potential use in performances of species; the public safety risk they pose; and the evidence of harm to animals of the species in captivity, including stereotypies, health problems in captivity, shorter lifespans and increased infant mortality rates. 

The bill allows the Minister to issue permits authorizing eligible animal care organizations to keep designated animals; conduct non-harmful scientific research; breed; import; transport between eligible animal care organizations; transport/export for relocation to natural habitat; export to an animal care organization outside of Canada that is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums or the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries or that would be considered an eligible animal care organization if located in Canada. The bill requires organizations to apply for designation as an eligible animal care organization. Organizations are expected to administer the highest professionally recognized standards and best practices of animal care; have procedures that protect whistleblowers; refrain from activities that misrepresent or degrade captive animals, including through performance for entertainment purposes; and acquire animals in a manner that doesn’t threaten species populations. The Minister may prescribe standards and best practices of animal care, if professionals in animal science, veterinary medicine and animal care, and groups whose objective includes promotion of animal welfare have been consulted and if the standards account for the best available science and information. 

Issues 

Gaps in provincial regulations 

B.C.’s existing regulations related to the keeping, breeding, display and transport of exotic species are not comprehensive, leaving out many exotic species that are not subject to permits under regulations, because they are not considered “wildlife” as per the Act’s definition, or are not on the CAS list. For example, exotic species including, but not limited to, zebras, kangaroos, serval cats, ball pythons, and wallabies can still legally be kept by anyone in B.C. where there are no municipal restrictions. 

The CAS regulation currently prohibits only species that pose the greatest threat to public health and safety and does not consider animal welfare or a species’ suitability for captivity. The CAS regulation has not been significantly updated since it was created in 2009. Meanwhile, a growing body of evidence, as outlined in this document, pointing to how exotic animals suffer in captivity, along with shifting public sentiment, reflects the need for B.C.’s regulations to be updated. 

Controlled alien species permits and reliance on Canada’s Accredited Zoos & Aquariums accreditation  

Currently, the B.C. government issues permits to zoos and aquariums for possessing, breeding and transporting prohibited controlled alien species, requiring that they be either accredited by Canada’s Accredited Zoos & Aquariums (CAZA), or able to provide proof to the satisfaction of the director of meeting or exceeding the accreditation standards set by CAZA in order to receive a permit. In reviewing the B.C. government’s permit application, the only supporting documentation required is certification of insurance. Any other information pertaining to species welfare and care, enclosure details, safety standards and collection/breeding plan is available upon request and shared by CAZA on the facility’s behalf.

This heavy reliance on and downloading of responsibility to ensure high standards to a private, industry association is problematic for ensuring oversight and transparency around captive facility operations.  

A review of CAZA’s organizational structure, as outlined in the 2021 Accreditation Process Guide, illustrates how the organization is a private zoo and aquarium industry association that represents the interests of its members and that CAZA accreditation is not, on its own, an indicator of best practices and high animal care standards. CAZA’s organizational structure, including the Board of Directors, Accreditation Commission, Visiting Committee, Accreditation Appeal Panel, and Ethics and Compliance Committee, are comprised of CAZA members, with the exception of a veterinarian, permitted to be on the Visiting Committee and Accreditation Commission (as a non-voting member). The criteria for serving as an Accreditation Inspector requires that individuals are CAZA members (veterinarians may be an exception) and that individuals are currently employed at an accredited institution, with no exception noted for veterinarians.

Another overarching concern regarding CAZA is that the accreditation standards are vague, not species-specific, and largely outcome-based, leaving the process in terms of how to achieve them open to interpretation. Instead, prescriptive requirements can help prevent animal welfare issues from occurring in the first place, because they outline a specific process or action to follow, making them more objective and easier to enforce. For example, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) accreditation program includes more taxa-specific, in-depth animal care standards. Standards around space allocations illustrate this difference between outcome-based and prescriptive approaches. CAZA standards around space allocations, which are not taxa-specific, state that “Habitats in which animals are on public display must be of a size which enables the animal to demonstrate natural behaviours and to achieve a full range of body motion and physical movements.” While outcome-based measures can be useful, when used, they must be based on both psychological and physical metrics. Being able to physically move is not enough of a benchmark to establish the well-being of an animal in captivity. 

CAZA standards also state that member institutions must develop a clear and transparent process for identifying, communicating, and addressing animal welfare concerns, including from members of the public. It’s required that feedback to the person submitting the observation be timely. Prior to publishing of VHS’s most recent Greater Vancouver Zoo report in 2019, the author of the report made a number of attempts to engage with zoo management but received no response. VHS also shared the report with the zoo’s owner and received no response.  

Also of concern is that CAZA facility inspections occur only once every five years, with facilities notified in advance when they will be subject to an inspection. The results of these inspections are also kept confidential, preventing transparency and oversight of the accreditation process.  

Ultimately, CAZA accreditation simply indicates that minimum standards have been met that qualify an institution for CAZA membership, rather than any assurance of adequate standards for animal care and welfare.  

Recent captive facility incidents and site visits 

A series of high-profile incidents that have occurred in recent years at CAZA-accredited facilities in B.C., along with the multiple reports, photos and video evidence collected of concerning behaviours and circumstances, reinforce the issues around relying on CAZA accreditation for CAS permits. A lack of adequate facilities is also evidenced by the history of incidents and concerns outlined in various VHS reports, dating back to 1997, and discussed in the background section of this document. Since VHS’s last report was commissioned, several more high-profile incidents have occurred at the Greater Vancouver Zoo, including an incident in August 2019 in which a toddler was able to access an unauthorized area and was bitten by a black bear, resulting in the child being airlifted to hospital in serious condition. Then in the summer of 2020, photos of an emaciated-looking moose shared by a zoo visitor prompted public concern and resulted in the animal being euthanized the following day. Most recently, a WorkSafeBC report obtained by CBC News discovered that in December 2021 a zoo employee was bitten while feeding one of the zoo’s jaguars through a metal feeding chute. 

VHS visits to the Greater Vancouver Zoo in January and the Vancouver Aquarium in February of this year resulted in further documentation of ongoing animal welfare concerns. Photo and video evidence collected during these facility visits and from previous visits in recent years establishes a history of concerning situations and behaviour. This includes abnormal, purposeless, and repetitive behaviour by a number of animals, including a Steller sea lion seen repeatedly sucking on the ground of their enclosure; sea otters repeatedly pulling on the edge of their tank; a lone male lion repetitively pacing the fence that separates him from other captive lions; and giraffes licking and biting the bars of their enclosure. VHS also documented a number of inadequate enclosures, including for the two hippos at the Greater Vancouver Zoo, whose indoor enclosure is small and barren. It also appears there is only one, small indoor pool. Signage on their enclosure indicates they have been kept separated from each other since at least the summer of 2020. The African Penguin enclosure at the Vancouver Aquarium is also small and fails to provide any opportunity for the animals to escape public view. The penguins were observed spending the vast majority of the day during public viewing hours huddled together around a door in their enclosure. This evidence led VHS to submit a report to the BC SPCA and an investigation has since been opened and is underway.  

Bill S-241 gaps 

While Bill S-241 proposes a number of significant changes to the wild and exotic animal captivity industry across Canada, particularly in areas of the country where current regulations are largely non-existent, there are gaps in the bill which B.C. can address through action at the provincial level. The bill’s exceptions around owning, breeding, importing/exporting and transporting of designated animals for non-harmful scientific research or in the best interest of the animal, with regard to individual welfare and conservation of species leaves room for interpretation. Clarity is needed around what criteria will constitute legitimate non-harmful scientific research, an animal’s best interest and species conservation.  

The preamble to Bill S-241 acknowledges the shared federal and provincial jurisdiction around the subject of non-domesticated captive animals. This reality of shared jurisdiction means that, should Bill S-241 pass, the B.C. government would need to update provincial permitting for wild and exotic animals to meet or exceed the regulations outlined in Bill S-241, as the federal regulations would prevail over any weaker provincial regulations in this case. In its second reading in the Senate, the bill’s sponsor, Senator Martin Klyne, stated that the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has one of the highest standards of accreditation, with only seven facilities in Canada achieving AZA accreditation. These seven facilities, which includes the Vancouver Aquarium but not the Greater Vancouver Zoo, are listed as the first eligible “animal care organizations” under bill S-241. Senator Klyne acknowledged that other organizations, including CAZA-accredited facilities, would need to improve or evolve in order to be approved as an animal care organization under the bill. This reinforces the need for improvements to B.C.’s regulations around wild and exotic animal captivity.  

While Bill S-241 extends protections to more than 800 wild animal species, thousands of other species remain unprotected under the proposed regulations, as well as under existing provincial CAS or Wildlife Act regulations. This includes species such as zebras, kangaroos, serval cats, ball pythons and wallabies. 

Recommendations 

With B.C.’s Controlled Alien Species regulations currently under review, now is the ideal time for updated regulations that are informed by society’s expanded awareness of the issues facing wild and exotic animals in captivity.  

The VHS is recommending a number of actions be taken to address the issues and gaps outlined in this briefing note: 

First, the VHS recommends that B.C.’s Controlled Alien Species Regulation be expanded to include criteria related to animal welfare considerations and, ultimately, that the possession, breeding, and transporting of all exotic species for the purpose of permanent captivity be prohibited. Crucially, this prohibition must also apply to circumstances under which the B.C. government currently issues CAS permits, including accredited zoos and aquariums, TV and film industry, and research and education institutions. 

Exemptions should be considered for existing exotic animals in B.C. In regards to possession, this includes maintaining the exemption that allows for a Rescue Centre Possession Permit for seized, abandoned or surrendered CAS animals. An exemption should also be included for the possession and transport, for the purposes of rehabilitation, of established, wild, non-native Wildlife Act species, including but not limited to grey squirrels. This exemption is not intended to include invasive species that pose serious impacts on native species and the environment. In addition, abandoned domestic European rabbits should be removed from Schedule C of the Wildlife Act, to allow for rehabilitation and rehoming without the requirement of a permit. 

In regards to transport of exotic species, an exemption should be included that allows existing exotic animals in B.C. to be relocated to more appropriate facilities if their physical, psychological and/or social needs are not being adequately met in captivity and/or those species who are particularly inappropriate for B.C.’s climate. Criteria for what constitutes a more appropriate facility should be based on the Global Federation of Sanctuaries accreditation standards or equivalent. A transport exemption should also apply for seized, abandoned or surrendered CAS animals under a Rescue Centre Possession permit. The VHS asks that the B.C. government adopt a positive list approach to the CAS regulation, which is a framework that allows only those species that meet certain evidence-based suitability criteria to be kept, bred and transported. This serves as an alternative to B.C.’s current negative listing approach, which involves restricting or banning problematic species. As outlined in a previous VHS submission regarding positive lists, the advantages include that they are short and easily understood by the public; they use an evidence-based approach, including animal welfare considerations; they are preventative and utilize the precautionary principle; and the onus is on those who wish to trade or keep exotic animals to identify animals suitable as pets. 

The VHS also asks that breeding of existing captive exotic species in B.C. be prohibited, effective immediately, so that efforts can be focused on providing the best possible care for those individual animals while ensuring no additional exotic animals are born into permanent captivity in B.C. facilities. Native wildlife must not be bred for the purpose of permanent captivity. As such, breeding of captive native wildlife should be restricted and only permitted as part of a reintroduction program into the wild, with video streaming permitted, but no physical display of the animals to the public allowed.  

The VHS’s final recommendation relates to record-keeping and emergency planning for facilities that have captive wild and exotic animals. As part of the B.C. government’s permitting process, the province should require and maintain records for all individual wild and exotic captive animals in B.C. facilities, including information related to every individual animal’s origin, import and export history, breeding history, births, deaths, and transport history. This should also include all animals owned by a facility but on loan. Similarly, emergency management plans for all wild and exotic captive animals must be required. Last year’s catastrophic flooding, heat dome and wildfires and the deaths of more than one million farmed animals as a result reiterates the growing importance of protections for animals under human care during disasters and emergencies. The area impacted in last year’s flooding of the Fraser Valley was not far from the location of the Greater Vancouver Zoo. It’s crucial that emergency planning include a feasible strategy for urgent animal evacuations to prevent the kind of mass suffering we have seen. 

While this document is focused on the context of zoos and aquariums, B.C.’s regulations also encompass the use of wild and exotic animals in other industries, such as TV and film, exotic pets, and educational and research institutions. The discussion and considerations outlined in this document should apply to all industries and use of wild and exotic animals that are subject to B.C.’s regulations.  

Categories
Media Release

Two Metro Vancouver animal attractions under investigation for animal cruelty

VANCOUVER, March 10, 2022 – Animal advocates have decried conditions at the Vancouver Aquarium and Greater Vancouver Zoo for years. According to the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS), the observed psychological state of several animals in both facilities necessitated a report to BC SPCA, which enforces laws regarding animal welfare for wild and exotic animals in captivity in the province. The BC SPCA notified VHS that an investigation has been opened into the two facilities.

Video footage taken in 2022 and released by the VHS reveals a hippo floating listlessly in a barren indoor pool; a lion endlessly pacing along the fence that separates him from his captive pride; African penguins, unable to escape public view, standing for long periods of time huddled around a door in their enclosure; sea otters repeatedly trying to peel back the edges of their tank; a Steller sea lion abnormally sucking on the ground.

Keeping wild animals in captivity can prevent them from expressing their natural behaviours, says VHS Campaign Director Emily Pickett. Pickett notes that when animals are unable to express their natural behaviours, they begin to engage in “stereotypic behaviours” – repetitive, purposeless movements like a tiger pacing or giraffes biting and licking a bar, both of which can be seen in the video footage released by VHS.

“Consider that a giraffe’s natural habitat ranges from the size of Stanley park to the size of Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, and Surrey combined,” says Pickett. “By comparison, the giraffe enclosure at the Greater Vancouver Zoo is thousands of times smaller than their natural roaming distance.”

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 survey also revealed mixed opinion on other zoo and aquarium practices. 49 percent of British Columbians support keeping animals in permanent captivity for entertainment and education, while 44 percent are opposed; the remainder are undecided. 

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

-ends-

Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
News/Blog

Protect wild, exotic animals in captivity: Petition

Wild, exotic animals suffer in captivity

Zoos and aquariums cannot replicate the size and complexity of a wild animal’s natural habitat. Captive wildlife are also unable to engage in many natural behaviours that are crucial to their physical, social and psychological well-being. Captive exotic animals are often kept in climates that are not suitable for their species.  

According to a recent poll,89% of British Columbians oppose the international trade of exotic animals (wild animals not native to B.C.) to be kept on display in permanent captivity in zoos and aquariums.

By signing the petition, you call on the B.C. government to:

  • Expand the Controlled Alien Species regulation criteria to include animal welfare considerations and update the CAS list to include and prohibit the keeping, breeding and transporting of all exotic species for permanent captivity;
  • Adopt a positive list approach, which allows only those species that meet certain evidence-based suitability criteria to be kept, bred and transported.
  • No longer allow permits to be issued for the keeping, breeding and transporting of exotic animal species, including for zoos and aquariums, film and tv industry, and research and education institutions;
  • Relocate to more appropriate facilities, animals whose physical, psychological and/or social needs are not being adequately met in captivity and/or those who are not appropriate for B.C.’s climate.
  • If no suitable alternatives exist, allow exotic species currently kept in captivity to remain, but prohibit captive breeding of exotic species.
  • Restrict captive breeding of native wildlife, unless it is part of a reintroduction program into the wild.
  • Maintain records for all individual wild and exotic captive animals in facilities, including information related to origin, import/export, breeding, births, deaths, and transport history.
  • Require emergency management plans for all wild and/or exotic animals in captivity.

Call for changes to wild & exotic animal captivity rules in B.C.

VHS has delivered a letter outlining our recommendations and has requested a meeting with the Minister. We will keep Ministry decision-makers updated on the total number of public signatures in support of the campaign.

*The petition form will only accept Canadian postal codes. If you reside outside of Canada, you can send a message directly to B.C. Minister Katrine Conroy at FLNR.Minister@gov.bc.ca

Update

VHS has been closely observing the status of animals at the Greater Vancouver Zoo and the Vancouver Aquarium. Investigation of both facilities revealed animals in small, barren enclosures and animals exhibiting abnormal behaviours. We have reported this footage to the BC SPCA and a cruelty investigation has been opened.

View the full footage reported to the BC SPCA.

Learn more about exotic, wild animal captivity and help raise awareness

Scroll through the infographics below to learn more about the issues facing captive wild animals. Click the images to save and share them on social media, or scroll down the page for key messages to share on Twitter.

Wild, exotic animals have no place in B.C. zoos. I support @vanhumane’s suggested restrictions to animal captivity.
I signed the petition to protect wild, exotic animals from suffering in captivity! Will you join me?
B.C.’s Controlled Alien Species regulation has not been updated since 2009 and is overdue for an update. Sign the petition to call for changes!

B.C.’s outdated regulations

There are loopholes in the law when it comes to keeping exotic animals. While B.C. has regulations related to the possession, transportation and breeding of exotic animals (wild animals not native to B.C.), the “Controlled Alien Species” (CAS) regulation prohibits only species that pose the greatest threat to public health and safety and does not consider animal welfare or a species’ suitability for captivity. This leaves out many exotic species, such as kangaroos and zebras, who are not subject to the CAS regulation.

The international trade of animals also increases the risk of disease spread. One in four emerging diseases is zoonotic; many of the most serious illnesses of our lifetimes have originated in animals, including COVID-19.

In B.C., zoos and aquariums, industries using animals for research, and the TV and film industry can get permits to keep dangerous exotic animals through provincial laws regulating the trade of exotic animals. These Controlled Alien Species permits lead to frequent trade of exotic animals and end up resulting in at best, boredom and repetitive behaviours, and at worst, physical suffering and early death.

The province has not significantly updated the CAS regulation since its passing in 2009 and it is overdue for an update.

Categories
animal welfare Captivity compassion cruelty Cruelty-free ethics News/Blog Promoted wildlife zoo

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.

Categories
Media Release

BC SPCA and VHS seek leave to intervene in Vancouver Aquarium lawsuit against City of Vancouver Park Board

UPDATE (Sept 19, 2017): We are disappointed to report that the B.C. Supreme court has not granted VHS and the BC SPCA leave to intervene in the Vancouver Aquarium’s lawsuit against the Vancouver Park Board.

Today (Sept 7), as described in the press release below, VHS is joining with the BC SPCA in seeking to speak on behalf of the animals who may be affected by any challenge to the Vancouver Park Board bylaw that currently bans the keeping of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Sept. 7, 2017. For immediate release. Vancouver – The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA) and the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) are seeking leave at the British Columbia Supreme Court to intervene in the Vancouver Aquarium’s lawsuit against the Vancouver Park Board.  The aquarium’s lawsuit aims to invalidate a bylaw passed by the Park Board that bans the keeping of cetaceans in Stanley Park.

The BC SPCA and the VHS fully support the ban on cetaceans at the park because they say the animals’ complex needs cannot be met in captivity, which compromises their welfare.

Both organizations believe that if the bylaw is struck down, it could deter elected officials from considering animal welfare when drafting laws that impact animals.  They say it would also set a dangerous precedent, limiting their ability to influence the drafting and implementation of laws affecting animals.

If granted intervenor status by the court, the BC SPCA and the VHS will submit that the Park Board is acting within its legislative capacity and is exercising its authority in the public interest, which includes consideration of the humane treatment of animals.

“If this bylaw is overturned it will not only compromise the welfare of cetaceans, it could undermine animal welfare across Canada,” said VHS executive director Debra Probert.

“The BC SPCA believes this bylaw serves the best interests of cetaceans. As an organization that speaks out on behalf of wild, companion and farm animals, we have a responsibility to support laws and bylaws that promote good welfare,” says Craig Daniell, chief executive officer of the BC SPCA.

The BC SPCA is the largest animal welfare organization of its kind in North America and the largest animal sheltering society in the world. The VHS is a registered charity dedicated to the humane treatment of animals.   Both organizations are being represented by Vancouver lawyer Rebeka Breder of Breder Law.

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The BC SPCA/VHS application to intervene is available here.

Categories
Media Release

Vancouver Humane Society questions Vancouver Aquarium’s claims on marine mammal rescue

Media release

April 27, 2017

Vancouver – The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) is questioning claims by the Vancouver Aquarium that its marine mammal rescue program is threatened by a ban on cetacean display at the aquarium. The Vancouver Park Board voted in March to amend a bylaw to ban the display of cetaceans at the aquarium.

VHS points out that other major wildlife rehabilitation facilities in British Columbia do not put rescued animals on public display, despite dealing with many more rescues than the aquarium.

“Wildlife rehabilitation is not about rescuing animals to put them on display,” said VHS spokesperson Peter Fricker.  “The mandate is to rehabilitate and release animals.”  He said the aquarium’s current non-releasable rescued animals do not need to be on display to meet their welfare needs.

VHS argues that the aquarium should seek to work with the Whale Sanctuary Project, which is proposing to establish sea-pen sanctuaries for former captive cetaceans and non-releasable rescued cetaceans.

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Categories
animal welfare compassion cruelty News/Blog Promoted

A victory for the opposition to cetacean captivity

VHS is thrilled with the unanimous vote by the Vancouver Park Board to direct its staff to bring forward a bylaw change by May 2017 prohibiting display of cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium.

This is a huge step forward in the fight against cetacean captivity.  We hope the Park Board will approve the amended bylaw in May and end the aquarium’s captive cetacean program once and for all.

We would like to congratulate and thank all the groups and individuals who have helped convince the Park Board that now is the time to stop putting captive whales and dolphins on display at the aquarium.

VHS is proud to have played a part in the broad and growing movement to end cetacean captivity.  Late, last year we and Zoocheck published a powerful report that questioned claimed value of the aquarium’s cetacean research.

The report was distributed to each Park Board Commissioner and was followed up by a presentation to the board, which is reprinted here: 

The crux of this debate, in our view, is whether the Vancouver Aquarium’s claimed benefits of cetacean captivity outweigh the negative impacts of that captivity on animal welfare. 

The concerns over animal welfare are genuine and credible, but the Aquarium has tried to undermine those concerns with personal attacks on those who oppose its plans.

The Aquarium’s CEO, Dr. Nightingale said opponents of cetacean captivity “in my view have no credibility.” – CP story, Feb 21, 2017

Dr. Nightingale has referred to those who oppose cetacean captivity at the aquarium as “extremists” – “The head of the Vancouver Aquarium says “extremists” are behind a petition calling for a referendum to decide whether any new dolphins, whales or porpoises can be added to its expanding tanks.” – Metro News Vancouver, Feb 17, 2014.

I would like to list some of the people who are on record as opposing cetacean captivity at the Aquarium:

Dr. Lori Marino, Ph.D. – neuroscientist and expert in animal behavior and intelligence

Dr. Naomi RosePh.D. – marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute.

Dr. David Duffus, Ph.D. – founder of the Whale Research Lab at the University of Victoria

Dr. Paul Spong, Ph.D. – neuroscientist and cetologist, founder of the OrcaLab on Vanc Island

BC biologist Alexandra Morton –  who in 2006 received an award from Van Aquarium for Excellence in Aquatic Conservation.

 Dr. Jane Goodall, world-renowned animal scientist, whom Dr. Nightingale dismissed as “operating on information provided by the activist community.”

 Dr. Rebecca Ledger, Ph.D., animal behaviourist.

 This is what Dr. Ledger told the Vancouver Province after viewing the captive belugas Quila and Aurora at the Aquarium last July:

 “They’re trapped,” said Rebecca Ledger, an expert in animal behaviour, during a visit to the aquarium with The Province. “Psychologically, they are not fulfilled and are behaving abnormally. That’s sad, especially since these are very intelligent animals. We’re not talking about cockroaches, we’re talking about cetaceans.” – Vanc Province, July 2. 2016

 Barbara Cartwright, CEO of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, which represents SPCAs and humane societies across Canada, including our own BC SPCA…

 And what about the BC SPCA? – the agency with statutory responsibility for protecting animals in BC:

Here’s what the BC SPCA website says: “The BC SPCA recognizes the complex needs of cetaceans, and their highly sentient and social nature,” says Dr. Sara Dubois, BC SPCA chief scientific officer. “The society is opposed to the capture, confinement, and breeding of marine mammals for entertainment or educational display, as fully providing the animals with the Five Freedoms is not possible for wild animals who require large and diverse aquatic habitats to live. It is time to phase out these displays.”

These people are not extremists.  They do not lack credibility.  Yet the aquarium continues to demonize those who disagree with its plans.

What does lack credibility is the Aquarium’s sudden prioritization of Beluga whale research, which it claims is the chief reason for bringing back belugas to live and be displayed until 2029 – at least another decade..

Dr. Nightingale now says research on belugas is “crucial”. – CP story, Feb 21, 2017

But in a report VHS and Zoocheck released last year, we reviewed published Vancouver Aquarium research papers in which captive cetaceans were the research subjects.

 The report found just 13 peer-reviewed original scientific papers over the past 30 years in which captive cetaceans were the research subjects.

That is a low output, considering the Aquarium’s statements about how important cetaceans are to its research – 13 in 30 years is very poor. 

Citation analysis (number of papers produced and number of citations per paper), found that the research Impact is also low, with relatively few citations – from a low of 0 citations to a high of 27. 

Not exactly a world changing research program at the Vancouver Aquarium. But now, all of a sudden it is “crucial.”

To say the least, all of this has left both the Vancouver Humane Society and Zoocheck skeptical about the Aquarium’s justifications for bringing back belugas to live in captivity.

To put it bluntly, we think they are being brought back because they are a lucrative tourist attraction, not because they are vital to cetacean research. 

Furthermore, we believe that decision is being made in spite of the strong and credible opposition of those who believe cetaceans suffer in captivity and that the Aquarium cannot justify that suffering.

That is why we believe the Aquarium should not import any more belugas and why it should end cetacean captivity.

Categories
Media Release

Vancouver Aquarium should end cetacean captivity now

Media release

February 20, 2017

Vancouver Aquarium should end cetacean captivity now

Vancouver – The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) says the Vancouver Aquarium should end cetacean captivity now and not import more beluga whales to the facility. VHS says the aquarium’s announcement that it will import several belugas and put them on display until 2029 appears to be a tactic to pre-empt a potential decision by the Vancouver Park Board to end cetacean captivity much sooner. VHS spokesperson Peter Fricker said the aquarium should not waste its resources on expanding its captive cetacean facility. “The tanks should stay empty and the money should instead be used to work with the Whale Sanctuary Project.” The Whale Sanctuary Project is a non-profit group of scientists and other professionals working on the development of a seaside sanctuary for whales and dolphins who might be retired from entertainment facilities or rescued from injury or sickness in the wild. VHS is also concerned that the aquarium may use its rescue program as a loophole to acquire cetaceans for its new facility. “We worry that rather than aim for genuine rescue and release, the aquarium will aim for rescue and retain. They haven’t promised to end captivity, only the display of belugas.” VHS is skeptical about the aquarium’s claims to use the imported belugas for research. A report published by VHS and Zoocheck found that the value of the aquarium’s captive cetacean research to date is questionable.

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