No more elephants and great apes in zoos? Kids react to proposed law

Story by CBC Kids News • 2021-03-18 16:14

Animals currently in zoos would be allowed to stay

The next time you go to the zoo, there could be some big animals missing from the enclosures.

A proposed federal law aims to make it illegal to keep elephants and great apes — including gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees — in captivity in Canada.

Summer Yuen, 8, from Toronto, Ontario, hopes to see that happen.

“Animals shouldn’t be locked up in the zoos,” she wrote in a letter in support of the proposal.

The letters Summer and her sister Amber sent to members of Parliament and senators. (Images submitted by Sandy Yuen)

Bill S-218, known as the Jane Goodall Act, has passed its first reading.

It still needs to be studied, debated and voted on by all members of the Senate before it can become law.

Jasiri is a male gorilla at the Calgary Zoo. Jasiri could stay, but  under the proposed law, no new similar animals could be housed at the zoo unless exceptions were made. (Image credit: The Calgary Zoo/Instagram)

How would it work?

The proposed law would make it illegal to buy or breed a great ape or elephant.

Exceptions would be made for “non-harmful scientific research” and also in situations where the animal’s well-being was in question.

Facilities that already own the animals would be able to keep them.

A baby elephant and its mother take a moment to rest in Kenya, Africa. The Jane Goodall Act focuses on making it illegal to keep elephants and apes in captivity in Canada. (Image credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)

What’s the point?

Canadian Senator Murray Sinclair, who has since retired, was originally behind the idea.

He said zoos serve an important role in some cases, a role “that we can’t and shouldn’t try to eliminate.”

But preventing animals from enjoying life in the wild and holding them captive “for entertainment purposes” is unfair, he said.

World-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall — whom the bill is named after — supports the proposed law.

She said while some modern zoos have changed to provide animals with better living conditions, there are still too many that mistreat them.

Jane Goodall has worked with and studied primates, especially chimpanzees, for nearly 60 years. (Image credit: Daniel Munoz/Reuters)

‘Animals have feelings too’

Summer and her family have sent letters and drawings to Canada’s senators, encouraging them to support the passing of the Jane Goodall Act.

“I believe you have an opportunity to help,” wrote Summer.

“Animals have feelings too,” wrote her sister, 10-year-old Amber.

She used elephants as an example, saying the animals “are able to memorize things even after decades and have a larger brain than any other land mammal.”

The Yuen family wrote letters addressed to members of the Senate, encouraging them to support the bill. (Image submitted by Sandy Yuen)

But some people think the proposed law doesn’t go far enough.

Only two types of animals protected

In the Jane Goodall Act, only elephants and great apes will fall under special protection.

Dr. Clément Lanthier, president and CEO of the Calgary Zoo, said he wants to see more animals protected under the act.

He gave the example of wolves and meerkats — two species that require a lot of social time and don’t always get it in captivity.

Maple, a moose at the Calgary Zoo, wouldn’t be protected under the Jane Goodall Act. Currently, the Calgary Zoo isn’t home to any elephants because the climate isn’t suitable for them. The Calgary Zoo has six great apes. (Image credit: The Calgary Zoo/Twitter)

Lanthier, who is a veterinarian, also said he wants the considered law to force zoos to get accreditation, the way his did.

Accreditation is a program where an outside specialist will come and inspect the zoo and give it a seal of approval.

According to Lanthier, the process involves a close study of the conditions at the zoo and the level of care for the animals, as well as a commitment to education and conservation.

Dr. Clément Lanthier is a veterinarian who has led the Calgary Zoo for more than 16 years. Lanthier wants Canadian kids to ‘learn more about your local zoo and challenge them to invest more in conservation education and make sure that they're accredited.’ (Image credit: The Calgary Zoo/Twitter)

Zoos shouldn’t be like Tiger King, vet says

Lanthier calls what you see on Netflix’s Tiger King, like how baby tiger cubs were taken away from their mothers, the opposite of what goes on at an accredited zoo.

The hit Netflix series Tiger King does not promote healthy animal care or welfare, said Lanthier. He called the treatment of the animals on the show ‘very unfortunate.’ (Image credit: Netflix)

At the moment, accreditation is not mandatory or required across Canada, except in British Columbia.

Lanthier said he wants all zoos to go through this process to avoid animal mistreatment on a large scale and to ban “operations that don't really invest enough in education or conservation or animal welfare.”


With files from John Paul Tasker/CBC News

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