A group that monitors zoos across Canada hopes the city of Thunder Bay will make some improvements to the Chippewa Park wildlife exhibit, especially when it comes to the size of some animal shelters.

Chippewa wildlife park manager Gordon John has worked there for 26 years, and has heard his share of complaints over that time.

"Some people just don't like zoos. There's nothing I can do or say that's going to persuade them any different," John said.

Overall, he said, Chippewa does a good job.

"Well, in a perfect world we'd love to have a lot more space, but compared to other zoos we've actually got some pretty large pens," he said.


Wildlife park manager Gordon John has worked there for 26 years. (Jennifer Keiller/CBC)

The executive director of Zoocheck Canada, Rob Laidlaw, said for the most part that's true.

"Although they did fall short in that regard for the black bear. That's quite an antiquated, relatively small exhibit," Laidlaw said.

Laidlaw said he took an unannounced tour of the wildlife park about 18 months ago.

He was impressed by the amount of vegetation in the pens. But he said he did notice some abnormal animal behaviour.

"There were a lot of animals that were doing nothing, and that's always a sign that an animal is either having a problem or may require more stimulation."


An arctic fox appears to have lots of room in its enclosure. (Jennifer Keiller/CBC)

John said the city has heeded the feedback, and is introducing more tactics to occupy the wildlife. He said he tries to keep pairs of animals together so they don't get lonely.

"Some of these animals will get stressed in the summer, and we try to eliminate that by giving them more shade, setting up fans," he said.  He's also working to expand some enclosures, including the bear pen.

"We're slowly developing the bear pen so that he's going to have an outdoor enclosure as well as being inside the concrete enclosure that he now has. But it all takes time," John said.

Laidlaw said he didn't have time to examine medical records or meal plans during his tour. He just walked through, as any visitor would.

"We've had vandalism where they've cut open the fence," John said. "[The animals] don't want to leave. They've left and come back looking for supper. So we must be doing something right."