British Columbia

Greater Vancouver Zoo protesters rally against animal captivity

The Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove, B.C., was full of Easter visitors Sunday in spite of a large group of protesters rallying against animal captivity.

Group demands zoo stop keeping exotic species, and focus on rescuing local animals

Vancouver Zoo protest

CBC News Vancouver at 6

6 years ago
2:07
Demonstrators demand zoo stop keeping exotic species 2:07

The Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove, B.C., was full of Easter visitors on Sunday in spite of a large group of protesters rallying against animal captivity.

Dozens of people blocked traffic as they marched down 264 Street toward the zoo shouting "Vancouver Zoo. Shame on you!" and carrying signs denouncing captivity. They lined the zoo's driveway and encouraged people not to buy tickets.

Police were on scene for much of the day to ensure the protest remained peaceful and off zoo property. Officers eventually had to close the zoo's gates to keep the crowd at bay, and at least one person was put in the back of a police car.

Protesters say the zoo's own news releases show the problems it has had caring for exotic species.

Protest organizer David Isbister says he would rather see the Greater Vancouver Zoo focus its effort on rescuing local animals and providing them a safe haven. (CBC)

"Two giraffe deaths in one week, hippos drowning. As far back as I can remember, in the '80s even, there's been a number of tragedies here and it needs to stop," said protest organizer David Isbister.

The group says it wants the zoo to phase out the breeding and captivity of exotic species, and instead focus its efforts on rescuing and providing sanctuary for local animals.

'There's going to be deaths'

On Sunday, the Greater Vancouver Zoo acknowledged it has had problems with animals in the past, but blamed them in part on a lack of funding. It also put some of the onus on exotic pet owners.

"The bulk of our animals are former pets and former rescues. Our male lion was a former pet in Ontario. Our grizzly bear is a former rescue," said Jody Henderson, the zoo's general manager. "Almost all of our reptiles are former pets and rescues. All of our birds of prey are captive bred or rescues. All of our parrots are former pets." 

Greater Vancouver Zoo General Manager Jody Henderson says it's always sad when an animal dies in the zoo's care, but that's part of the life cycle. (CBC)

"Nobody wants to keep their animals until they're 60-years-old. Go figure, they think it's cute when it's small and cuddly and a baby, but when it starts growing or making a lot of noise they don't want it anymore. So where does it go? It goes to places like ours."

Henderson said it's always sad when an animal dies in the zoo's care, but that's all part of the life cycle. 

"We're made up of over 500 different animals — all at different stages and ages of their lives. They're going to have illnesses, they're going to have fights ... and there's going to be injuries. And in the end, of course, there's going to be deaths."

History of exotic animal deaths

​The Greater Vancouver Zoo has a controversial history of keeping animals.

In April 2014, two-year-old Siberian tiger 'Hani' died after developing a lung infection commonly found in domestic cats. Just four months earlier, the zoo had to euthanize an 18-year-old Siberian tiger named 'Sweetie' after it stopped eating and developed breathing problems.

In July 2013, white rhino 'Charlie' had to be put down by zookeepers after it outlived its teeth and developed a blockage in its esophagus.

Between November 2011 and November 2012, three giraffes ranging in age from three-years-old to 23-years-old were found dead inside their barns, prompting investigations by the BC SPCA.

In 2009, four zebras from died after two cape buffalos were placed inside their closure.

With files from the CBC's Belle Puri

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