An Open Letter to Bill Peters, Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums: THIS IS A COMPLAINT
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.
Barry Kent MacKay
Markham, ON Canada
Director, Animal Alliance of Canada
Director, Animal Alliance of Canada