Tuesday, 21 August 2012

How do you complain to people who can't, or won't, recognize a complaint?

An Open Letter to Bill Peters, Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums: THIS IS A COMPLAINT

Bill Peters,
National Director,
Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums,
Suite 400, 280 Metcalfe Street
Ottawa, ON K2P 1R7

Dear Mr. Peters

I am a life-long naturalist long involved in animal conservation and protection issues.  As I grow older, I am ever more convinced that we must treat other species with respect and compassion.  Being a member, active in many cases, of many organizations involved with wildlife, including the Toronto Zoo, it naturally bothered me to read about the plight of animals held in Marineland, Niagara Falls, such as the solitary orca (they are a social species); six out of seven sea lions being blind or with serious vision or eye problems; the death of the baby beluga because no trainers who knew how to separate her from adult males battering her as her mother sought so valiantly to save her were on the site; the fur loss, weight losses; stresses and skin lesions talked about by staff who have quit in protest and, well, you can read the newspaper, and assuming you have done so, you know the litany of complaints, and to date, focused entirely on marine mammals. (www.thestar.com/topic/marineland)  There have, in the last twenty years, been documented many other concerns about other animals, such as bears, and deer, at Marineland.

And here's the problem: when those reports are submitted to CAZA, people like me think that, because CAZA always claims to share our concerns about animals, they will be read.  I know my colleague, Julie Woodyer, of Zoocheck-Canada, met with you to complain about Marineland, and of course for the last twenty years, and especially the last 14, there have been demonstrations, media releases, and letters sent to CAZA.   And yet, three times in three days the Toronto Star reported that you were not aware of any complaints.

How could you not have noticed?   I mean, I realize that you can't personally take part in all CAZA inspections, that these inspections of member zoos take place only every five years, and with plenty of prior warning, so maybe during the big day things like injuries, wounds, poor sanitation and water quality, inadequate housing and so on just don't get noticed.  Maybe when zoo keepers say "don't go there" the inspectors say "okay" and don't go there; or when zoo keepers say "oh, it's being treated" the inspectors say "okay" and don't make note of the problem.   Or maybe the CAZA inspectors really like the people they are inspecting, and don't really want to get them into trouble, especially knowing that the people whose facilities they are inspecting may some day be inspecting their own.  I mean, there aren't that many zoos in Canada compared to, say, the United States, so the chances of people all knowing each other are quite high and no one wants to be critical of someone who can be critical back.

What surprises me is that you claim to have received no complaints.   I guess the fault lies with the complainers.   So what we need to know, Mr. Peters, is what, in your mind, would constitute a complaint?   I want to send you one so  you know that people who care about animals are deeply concerned about the long history concerns that there are abused animals and substandard husbandry that has been documented at Marineland.  I know other people want to complain, have complained, so since those complaints don't count, how can we make them count?  Do we write "THIS IS A COMPLAINT" on the top of the letter?  Should it be in red, or underlined or in bold print? 

And please understand, Mr. Peters, that this inability to recognize complaints is not restricted to you.  Ontario Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur, who oversees the Ontario SPCA, is quoted in the newspaper as saying, "I was in tears" when reading about the plight of the animals at Marineland, and wished she had been told.  I guess it came as a shock to her, since she apparently didn't read the reports Zoocheck Canada has submitted to her government, and earlier governments, in the past, such as the Commentary on the Canadian Association ofZoos and Aquariums (CAZA) accreditation process:  Maineland of Canada Niagara Falls, which was published by the World Society for the Protection of Animals and Zoocheck Canada in January, 2002.  Ms Meilleur was only appointed to her present position last year, and I guess no one would have told her about that report, let alone that it was a complaint. 

But Mr. Peters, you certainly have been around a lot longer than her, and since the report addresses your organization, did you not notice that it opens by saying, "For many years, Marineland of Canada has been the subject of intense criticism from animal protection organizations in Canada and around the world.  A considerable portion of this criticism concerns substandard animal housing and care, and the relatively high level of cetacean mortality at the facility.  Marineland has also been extensively criticized for its practice of capturing cetaceans from the wild and importing them into Canada.  A detailed articulation of some of these concerns is contained in the Zoocheck Canada publication Distorted Nature: Exposing the Myth of Marineland (1998)"?

Now, I realize that no one wrote "THIS IS A COMPLAINT" on the copies sent to CAZA, so you may have not recognized that it was a complaint, or perhaps you received it and thought it only applied to Marineland, and perhaps (I'm really guessing here, since it's hard for me to understand how you would not think it constituted a complaint) you therefore failed to read the next paragraphs, which mention CAZA, specifically.

And note that it references a document published in 1998, that's fourteen years ago!   And all three are still on line.  (www.zoocheck.com/Reportpdfs/Distorted%20Nature.pdf)

I once met a toothless old self-professed "swamp rat" in a Louisiana backwater who was taking me to see some alligators and told me he never read his mail, then said, cackling loudly, "`Cause I just cain't read!"  I sort of liked the old geezer notwithstanding his illiteracy, but I'm sure you can read, so maybe there are folks, and you are one of them, who simply don't read their own mail.   But surely  you noticed news stories on TV and radio...you don't have to read them...and saw pictures of people demonstrating at Marineland, and being as it is a zoo, must have been curious about it?   It's not too late; they're still available (www.thestar.com/videozone/1243689--protest-at-marineland).  There are organizations created entirely to oppose Marineland. 

Anyway, here we are with this horrific situation as outlined in the media (for example, www.pressdisplay.com/pressdisplay/viewer.aspx) and since you are quoted you must have talked to the reporter, and unless she is lying, you told her you have received no complaints, and yet her interview was about complaints, not from me, or animal protection groups, or demonstrators, but from people who actually work, or worked, at Marineland.   Do their complaints equal complaints?

I am making this an open letter in an effort to optimize the chances that you will see it, or hear about it.  I really want you to know that it is a complaint.  I would suggest anyone concerned about the horrific conditions at Marineland do the same, but whether they write to you on paper or e-mail, they should first write "THIS IS A COMPLAINT" and hope that you understand.

Sincerely yours,

Barry Kent MacKay
Markham, ON  Canada
Director, Animal Alliance of Canada

Friday, 10 August 2012

Money wasted on killing wolves in Big Lakes MD


Money wasted on killing wolves in Big Lakes MD 

August 8, 2012 -Alberta wolf bounty programs have been receiving attention recently.  The MD of Big Lakes is one example of numerous programs across the province, providing $300 for each wolf turned in since 2010.
In three years, Big Lakes has spent approximately $87,000 on wolves claimed through the bounty program.  People from the area as well as across the country are justifiably concerned that this is not an ecologically sustainable practice, nor ethically sound.  Many wolves killed had never killed livestock, many of them never would have.
The real shame is that the situation is being portrayed as having two sides; those who want to protect livestock and those who want to protect wolves.  The irony is that both of these objectives could be met simultaneously through working together.  A large amount of money has been invested within Big Lakes to kill wolves.  If preventing livestock losses is the goal, that money could have been better used.
Wolf Biologist Marco Musiani has spent more than a decade investigating the correlations between wolf depredations and raising livestock.  His research has indicated that culling wolves has not been shown to reduce depredation, immediately nor long-term.  Indeed, there is no evidence to show that indiscriminately killing wolves works as a long-term solution; depredations occur in areas that have been practicing lethal control for decades. 
Musiani has described this approach as
            “a short-term response to depredation that does not decrease wolf-depredation at a           regional scale nor over long-term”.
In fact, in certain parts of North America, killing wolves indiscriminately through trapping may have lead to increased depredation rates on livestock the next year.  This may be due to more wolves present in these areas following a disruption of their social structure or maybe wolves avoiding traps had learned to prey on livestock, and become more dependent upon domesticated animals as a food source as pack mates are removed.  Similar research on Dingo’s in Australia also documented pack disintegration (loss of social stability regardless of population size) following indiscriminate lethal control methods.  In this research there appeared to be an increase in attack rates on livestock when using poison baits.
Council members of Big Lakes MD have stated that preventative measures would be extremely expensive.  The following cost comparisons have been  made using information gathered by John A Shivik of the US Department of Agriculture  in his journal article in BioScience,  March 2006  (“Tools for the Edge: What’s New for Conserving Carnivores?”), and through personal communication with  wolf biologists, ranchers, and individuals providing electric fence workshops.
LIST of Cost Comparisons at $87,000 and duration of effectiveness
Fladry:  Cost estimate $781/km.  Could purchase 111.4 km. Duration 60 days
Electric Fencing:
Cost estimate -$250 for Super Energizer IV voltmeter- 50 mile range (if off grid $450)
- grounding plates $17 or rods (rebar)
-rebar posts every 10-12 feet ($600 to $700 per ton)
-stucco wire roll 100 feet $80, or ¼ mile tensile steel $25
Could purchase -348 voltmeters or 5118 grounding plates or 134 tons of rebar posts or 108,750 feet of stucco wire or 870 miles of tensile steel.
Duration of effectiveness would be unlimited as long as fence was properly constructed and maintained.
Turbofladry: Cost estimate $1328/km.  Could purchase 65.5 km.  Duration unlimited as long as fence was properly constructed and maintained.
Livestock Guardian Dogs: Cost estimate $300 - $1000 initial cost, then $500 per year.  Could purchase 108 guardian dogs (at $800 each).  Duration of effectiveness is approximately the lifespan of guard animal, typically years.
Carcass Removal Programs: Cost estimate 9¢/lb for ruminants where programs occur, with a minimum $75 charge.  If the average calf weighs 525 pounds at weaning 1160 calves could have been removed (at $75).  If the average cow weighs 1800 lbs, then 537 cows could have been removed.  In some parts of North America Fish and Wildlife will donate the truck and fuel costs.  Often funds are generated through rancher donations, conservation group donations, local taxes, and grants.  Duration of effectiveness is ongoing.
Range Riders:  Cost estimate $110/day for 2 months/year is $6,600.  In some parts of the US tourists are paying for the opportunity to do this.  Could provide  range riders for 13 ranches.  Duration of effectiveness is ongoing.
Fladry is a simple, inexpensive yet effective method for deterring wolves from entering a pasture.  It is a line of flags hung outside a pasture to dissuade wolves from crossing it and entering the area.
TurboFladry is Fladry combined with electric fencing, and although more expensive, this type of set up has proven very effective at keeping wolves out of a given area.  Initial costs may appear high, but the effectiveness and longevity for preventing depredations should also come into consideration.  As well conservation goals should also be included in the equation.
Husbandry practices where predators share the landscape with domestic stock can have a major influence on whether or not wolves will be attracted to an area.  Many predator-friendly ranching practices are inexpensive but an initial investment into providing this type of information and making it accessible to livestock producers is necessary.  Some of the more commonly used and discussed techniques include: confining or concentrating flocks during periods of vulnerability, establishing a human presence using herders, synchronizing birthing to reduce the period of maximum vulnerability, and pasturing young animals in areas with little cover and in close proximity to humans.  One of the most basic provisions for not attracting predators to areas where livestock is being raised is to remove dead livestock immediately from pastures.  Carcass removal programs occur in parts of Alberta where Grizzly bears are overlapping with ranchers.  Monitoring the health domestic animals regularly is critical to ensure dead and weaker domestics are managed, as these present more of an opportunity to wolves and other predators.  If a producer can remain “unattractive to wolves” by promptly managing for dead and sick livestock, as well as maintaining a strong human presence, livestock depredation rates should decrease in most areas.

Currently, there is no known place in North America where livestock is the majority of wolf prey.  This is not always the case in other countries where wolf populations have been all but decimated, such as Europe and Asia.   It becomes necessary to identify that wolves account for approximately 1 – 3 % of livestock losses on a large scale in North America, with weather, calving, and digestive problems a far larger concern for producers.

Wolf researcher and biologist Marco Musiani has identified that seasonal patterns can be seen in livestock calving, grazing practices, and variation in wolf pack energy requirements.  Understanding these patterns can help improve planning and management, and potentially alleviate conflicts. 

It is also paramount to consider the benefits and costs involved in ecosystem services that are provided for by wolves as a top predator and keystone species.  Wolves help to maintain the health, balance and biodiversity of natural ecosystems.  The Big Lakes Regional District has been advertising lake estates as a “natural way of living”, which is indeed something to boast about.  Especially as wilderness areas and natural predator-prey ecosystems are becoming more rare, and thus precious on a global scale, around the world. 
Residents of Big Lakes have indicated that the elk population in the area may be increasing, and wreaking havoc on canola fields.  This is just one other agricultural concern that may arise when tinkering with the natural system begins. 

Local sustainability also embraces a land ethic.   Aldo Leopold described this basic principal in the following way, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”  Local sustainability is not just about taking care of the people in our community; it also requires stewardship of the plants, animals, land and water around us.
The MD of Big Lakes will be reconsidering the continuation of the bounty program this September. 


Contact: Sadie Parr, sadester@hotmail.com