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Three quarters of Ontario's zoos failed last year's WSPA report


jessica miller

Three quarters of Ontario Zoos received an overall failing grade in the 2005 World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) report.  The report says that animals and people are in danger from unsecured cages and barriers at some of these zoos. 

“A large number of animals are suffering in the province of Ontario,” says Pat Tohill, WSPA’s campaigns and communications manager. “Physical needs are not being properly met because they don’t have sufficient room to exercise. They’re kept in small cages with no furnishings to speak of that would allow them to exercise their range of natural behaviours.”

According to Tohill, some animals in Ontario zoos are manifesting abnormal behaviours such as pacing, bar biting and licking, head bopping and weaving. Some exhibits are so small that animals can barely turn around.

Five exhibits at each zoo were audited by Dr. Ken Gold, a zoo professional for 25 years, who gave a failing grade to 83 per cent of the exhibits.

In the WSPA report, Gold said he was surprised by the state of zoos in the province of Ontario and that several of these zoos would never reach the level of care, welfare and housing required to meet professional standards.

Many Ontario zoos failed for having small cages, inappropriate hard surfaces and a lack of shelter for shade and privacy. Living on hard surfaces, such as concrete or firmly packed earth, changes the natural behaviours and movements of animals, which could cause foot or joint damage.  Animals that weren’t provided proper shelter, could not escape the heat from the sun or the public’s view.

Crista Klose, Director of Jungle Cat World in Orono, Ontario, says although it is good to have zoo standards checked, it is unfair that the inspector does not notify zoos before coming to talk to the owners about the zoo before publishing his comments in the WSPA’s report.

“They should be a little more out in the open,” says Klose. “They should give people a little more of a chance to testify [for their zoo]. Maybe they could go in and have a look and then afterwards talk to the owner or someone responsible that could explain [their concerns] and then the report would be fair.”

Passing zoos are the Toronto Zoo, Jungle Cat World, Muskoka Wildlife Centre and Zooz Nature Park in Stevensville, Ontario.

The 12 failing zoos are the Bear Creek Exotic Wildlife Sanctuary, Bergerons Exotic Animal Sanctuary, Bowmanville Zoo, Colasanti’s Tropical Gardens, Elmvale Jungle Zoo, Greenview Aviaries Park and Zoo, Killman Zoo, Lickety-Split Ranch and Zoo, Northwood Buffalo and Exotic Animal Ranch, Papanack Park Zoo, Pineridge Zoo and Twin Valley Zoo.

Bowmanville Zoo, Lickety-Split Ranch, Northwood Buffalo and Exotic Animal Ranch and Pineridge Zoo all refused to comment about the report.  Colasanti’s Tropical Gardens’ listed phone number is an unassigned cellular number. The remaining failing zoo owners and directors were unavailable, unlisted or did not return calls.

Many of the roadside zoos are not improving, says Tohill.  One month prior to the WSPA’s audit, a tiger escaped from Papanack Zoo near Ottawa in Wendover, Ontario.

“It dug its way out from under a fence,” says Tohill.  “Fortunately in that particular incident nobody was injured [because] people have been injured and killed by animals at zoos.” 

So why are these zoos allowed to be kept open? What kind of provincial or federal laws do we have to protect animals and humans at zoos?
 “There are no public safety requirements whatsoever,” says Tohill.  “Anybody can open a zoo, can have any kind of dangerous animal and can keep it in any conditions without regard to animal welfare, without regard to public safety.”
According to the WSPA’s report, Ontario makes it too easy for residents to collect wild animals in small cages and advertise as a zoo.

Tohill describes how easy it is to get a zoo permit in Ontario.  “You basically notify the government that you want to keep animals and native species in a zoo and you pay your permit fee and that’s about it.”

Although new zoos could be subject to an inspection, some zoos have been getting permits for five years without inspections, according to Tohill. 
Zoo standards drafted in 2001 would only cover one-third of animals in Ontario zoos, since they’re only for native species and not exotic animals.

“You would be required to have a permit to keep a bear or a raccoon, but you wouldn’t have to have a permit to keep a monkey, or a chimpanzee, or a tiger or an elephant,” says Tohill.

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