Tuesday, 4 September 2012



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

Dear Mr. Peters,

Last week I wrote an open letter to you, expressing my amazement that CAZA was unaware, after years of reports, demonstrations, news stories, and even a deputation from Zoocheck-Canada, of any "complaint" about Marineland, the facility in Niagara Falls again documented to have a sorry record of animal abuse. You replied: "Your complaint is acknowledged. All such reports are thoroughly investigated and appropriate actions are taken as justified."  I can't recall any zoo losing accreditation from CAZA, not even the one that uses its last, lonely elephant for circus stunts, but perhaps you can enlighten me.

You continue, "The accreditation program of the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which regulates the operations of Marineland and all other CAZA accredited members is based on a comprehensive set of demanding standards designed to ensure that all animals kept by our members receive the best of care in modern, appropriate facilities. We conduct regular inspections to verify that our standards are adhered to at all times, and our Accreditation Commission is empowered to investigate any complaints that are brought to our attention. The Commission can order corrective measures or in very serious cases can remove the institution’s accreditation.

"CAZA has not previously received complaints about the treatment of animals at Marineland. CAZA will now thoroughly investigate the allegations with respect to Marineland in an objective manner and will determine what actions need to be taken in light of the facts. We will carry out this inspection in conjunction with the OSPCA."

Clearly, whatever CAZA does to assure compliance to its standards, it doesn't work to protect animals.  Marineland is accredited, and yet articles in The Toronto Star outlined a horrific record of abusive situations, as have previous reports submitted to you by Zoocheck-Canada (which you apparently didn't recognize as being complaints).

One of the CAZA standards used to dictate that when a zoo had fewer than three elephants, it would either have to get more elephants (the idea being that elephants are social animals) or move the one it had.   As amended March 23, 2005, CAZA's Visiting Committee Handbook stated "Elephant management facilities should make every effort to maintain elephants in social groupings.  It is inappropriate to keep highly social female elephants singly.  Elephant care staff should be aware of each animal's social compatibility and the dominance hierarchies of the herd."

In 2007, the Edmonton Valley Zoo was clearly in violation of that standard, and the General Exhibit Standards within the Government of Alberta Standards for Zoos, which state "All animals must be maintained in numbers sufficient to meet their social and behavioural needs" when it was down to its last elephant, Lucy.

On October 25th of that year, R.D. Hale, chair of CAZA's "ethics committee" wrote "After viewing all of the circumstances, the Ethics Committee is satisfied that the decisions made by the Valley Zoo are in the best interest of the animals at this time."

And then, the very next year, CAZA came out with an "Elephant Care Manual" that after still noting that it was "inappropriate" to keep "highly social female elephant's (sic) long term" it added "It is recognized that some socially aberrant adult females currently exist and these elephants can be managed singly if the institution has made every effort to introduce them to a social group and CAZA agrees that the anti-social behavior is not correctable.

Wow...so it's all Lucy's fault that she's alone, apparently being "socially aberrant", although I can't help but wonder how "every effort" could have been made to introduce her to a "social group" when she's the only elephant in Alberta.

If you, or your colleagues at CAZA, can't see the absurdity of all this, so be it, but I don't think you can blame me and a growing number of others if we fail to take CAZA seriously.   The thing that saddens me is that some still do.

The one time I have heard of CAZA seriously threatening to remove accreditation was when Toronto City Council and the Toronto Zoo Board decided to move its remaining three elephants to a sanctuary because the city couldn't afford maintaining and upgrading their quarters.  CAZA's concern was that the sanctuary was not accredited as a zoo.  It is not accredited as a zoo because it is not a zoo.  It's a sanctuary, with much higher standards for animal husbandry than are required by CAZA or the American equivalent, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.  It is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

But this is about complaints pertaining to Marineland, and apparently anything less than a formal complaint does not register with you as a complaint.   When I received your reply I called some activists who have spent years complaining about Marineland.   Did any of them complain directly to CAZA?  The answers I have received so far confirm your statement, but the reason they can't remember complaining to you directly can pretty well be summed up by what one told me on the phone:  "Why would I?  They must have known, and yet did nothing.  No one takes them seriously."

And yes, I know that I previously never have complained to CAZA, and for the same reason.  I have spent my life in the animal protection business and have seen firsthand how low the animal husbandry standards for CAZA accreditation can be.  Therefore I also do not take CAZA accreditation seriously as a measure of the quality of the facility.  If Marineland can get accreditation, such accreditation is of no value in determining animal welfare.

But a few people less involved with animals, including legislators and media, sometimes do take CAZA seriously, and I would urge you to try to maintain that faith.   I do this not because I care about CAZA, I don't, but because I know that in the long run the only way CAZA can be taken seriously is to act with an effectiveness so far absent, and start seriously supporting its own stated goal to "promote the welfare of animals by encouraging the advancement of conservation, education, and science."  Those are features I would support, along with, as you said in your letter, animals receiving the "best" care.  In fact, I'd settle for them even receiving reasonably good care.

It seems to me that zoos are at a crossroads.  No one can disagree that they are entertaining and amuse children.   But claims that they serve effectively to actually teach those children, or anyone else, anything about wildlife are not supported by such research as exists.   Such education is at any rate increasingly available through other sources; it's not necessary to put a rhinoceros in a pen to teach a nine-year old what a rhino eats or where it is native.

Captive breeding and release can contribute to conservation, but the 99 percent of a zoo's public infrastructure is rarely, if ever, seriously part of such endeavour.  Endlessly catching beluga whales and putting them in concrete ponds in no way conserves them.  There are certainly some discoveries to be made about animals held captive that are of interest to scientists, but few, and most such information is not easily applicable to the conservation of wild animals.

There are some zoos that are genuinely engaged in these endeavours, and do put the welfare of the animals first, do contribute to conservation and education, and CAZA does them no service by claiming zoos like Marineland are part of these worthy endeavours, or by calling Lucy aberrant. If zoos are to survive, they will have to adapt, and do so on ways that benefit the animals in their care, the species they are involved in, or that provide real education.  And they will have to recognize that in this age of electronic communication, you can fool only a decreasing number of people with bland assurances detached from such horrific realities as those documented at Marineland.

Barry Kent MacKay
Animal Alliance of Canada

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