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Two key animal welfare issues to raise with your B.C. MLA this summer

Speak up for sled dogs & wild animals in captivity

Members of B.C.’s Legislative Assembly (MLAs) are in their home constituencies for the summer, engaging with residents to find out what matters to them. The government has so far been inactive on the VHS’s asks to improve laws for sled dogs and wild animals in captivity. Will you take this crucial opportunity to ask your MLA to speak up to change the laws? Take action now!

Sled dogs & wild animals in captivity need your help

Wild, exotic animals confined in captivity and dogs suffering in the commercial sled dog industry are two issues that the provincial government has acknowledged are on their ‘to-do list’; but action continues to be delayed and animals suffer in the meantime.

Here’s where YOU come in! Now, while your MLA is in their constituency office for the summer, is a crucial opportunity to set up a meeting with them.

You don’t need to be an expert on either of these topics. Instead, what’s important is that they hear why these issues matter to you; what your concerns are; and that you want them to raise the issues, along with the VHS’s recommendations, with the relevant B.C. Ministers.

The VHS put together a step-by-step guide to help engage your MLA and is here to support you along the way. Sign up to receive your MLA engagement guide and get in touch with your MLA today!

Sign up below to get your MLA engagement guide

Ask your MLA to speak up for:

1) Wild and exotic animals in captivity

Wild and exotic animals (animals not native to B.C.) kept in captivity have complex needs that aren’t being met in cages and tanks and that are crucial for their physical and mental well-being.

In captivity, these animals are are cut off from exploring new territory with engaging sights and smells. They are often kept alone or in unnatural social groups, with the inability to escape from other animals they don’t get along with. They are also unable to engage in many behaviours that are natural to them, including hunting. As a result, captive wild and exotic animals often show signs of stress, boredom, and even aggression.

Many wild and exotic animals are legally kept in captivity throughout B.C., including:

  • kept in zoos and aquariums with enclosures a fraction of the size of their natural home range
  • kept in poor conditions by animal rental agencies for use in TV, film and events
  • suffering as a result of inadequate housing, nutrition and care when kept as pets

The VHS has been documenting the conditions of animals at the Greater Vancouver Zoo and Vancouver Aquarium for years.

The video below illustrates the need for changes to B.C.’s rules around wild and exotic animals in captivity.

Wild and exotic animals are suffering in captivity in British Columbia

Wild and exotic animals are suffering in captivity in British Columbia as a result of outdated regulations. Learn more and take action: https://vancouverhuma…

2) Sled dogs in commercial sled dog tourism industry

In the commercial sled dog tourism industry are often kept chained outdoors for prolonged periods of time, with little opportunity to exhibit natural behaviours or socialize. When they can no longer be used by the industry, they are subjected to inhumane methods of euthanasia.

Undercover investigations and whistleblowers have shared evidence of:

  • dogs pacing repetitively
  • dogs chained in barren yards with access to dog houses that provide little protection from the heat and cold
  • stories of dogs being euthanized inhumanely, including by gunshot

In fact, B.C.’s current Sled Dog Standards of Care allow for sled dogs to be tethered or caged for prolonged periods of time, as they are only required to be released once a day and there are no requirements for how long. Sled dog tour companies are permitted to shoot surplus sled dogs, so long as the operator has made reasonable efforts to try to rehome the sled dog.

The video below, from B.C.-based tour companies, highlights the need to update the province’s sled dog regulations.

Sled dogs are still suffering in British Columbia

Sled dogs in British Columbia are still suffering as a result of outdated regulations. Learn more and take action: https://vancouverhumanesociety.bc.ca/?p=26184

Unable to meet or speak with your MLA this summer, but still want to take action?

Get in touch with VHS at info@vancouverhumanesociety.bc.ca for a quick way to call on your MLA to take action on these issues.

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News/Blog

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.  

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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-

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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.

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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
Opinion Editorial

Employee injured by jaguar at Greater Vancouver Zoo highlights welfare issue

Article originally published on Daily Hive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
News/Blog

Tell the Greater Vancouver Zoo: If you can’t give animals a better life, don’t keep them.

Update

2,867 individuals used the quick action tool to send a message to the Greater Vancouver Zoo. After the zoo refused to take action to improve life for the animals it currently holds while working toward ending the keeping of captive animals for the sake of public entertainment, VHS launched a campaign calling for a change to provincial regulations.

Animals at the Greater Vancouver Zoo are living lives of boredom and frustration, according to our report.

The report, commissioned by VHS from Zoocheck, found that many animals at the zoo are living in barren, under-sized cages and enclosures that restrict them from engaging in natural behaviours.

The report also says the zoo does not provide adequate behavioural enrichment for the animals. (Behavioural enrichment involves providing animals with a stimulating environment that allows natural activities such as climbing, foraging or digging and also creates physical and cognitive tasks that simulate challenges animals would find in their natural environment.)

We’re calling on the zoo to:

  • develop a comprehensive environmental/behavioural enrichment program for all its animals.
  • stop keeping animals that aren’t suited to B.C.’s climate and those it cannot accommodate in a way that better meet their physical, psychological and social needs.
  • remove or enlarge inadequate, undersized cages.

In the longer term, we think the zoo should stop keeping exotic animals and transition toward becoming a sanctuary for native species.

Please join us in sending a message to the Greater Vancouver Zoo that it needs to improve life for the animals it currently holds while working toward ending the keeping of captive animals for the sake of public entertainment.

This action has now ended

2,867 people used this tool to send an email to decision-makers. Thank you for taking action!

Categories
animal welfare Captivity News/Blog Promoted wildlife zoo

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.

 

Categories
animal welfare News/Blog Promoted Uncategorized zoo

‘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