Calgary

Roadside zoos get failing grade from animal rights group

Two roadside zoos in the province are unsafe for both animals and visitors, and neglect basic standards of animal care, an audit – paid for by an animal rights organization – has found.

Two roadside zoos in the province are unsafe for both animals and visitors, and neglect basic standards of animal care, an audit – paid for by an animal rights organization – has found.

The World Society for the Protection of Animals says some exhibits at the Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail and the Guzoo in Three Hills are "accidents waiting to happen."

"At both roadside zoos, bears, tigers and other big cats were kept behind flimsy fences less than three metres high, without an overhang," Pat Tohill, the WSPA's campaigns manager, said on their website.

"Many of these exhibits lacked the safety precautions such as proper stand-off barriers, secure secondary containment areas and double-door entry gates which are commonplace in professional zoos."

The WSPA hired Ken Gold, a zoo expert, to look at five exhibits – including bears, big cats and primates – in four Alberta zoos: Discovery, Guzoo, the Calgary Zoo and Edmonton's Valley Zoo.

All five Calgary exhibits and four of the five Edmonton enclosures received passing grades. But Tohill says all five exhibits at the Discovery and Guzoo failed.

Tohill said the enclosures at the roadside zoos lacked privacy and shelter for the animals, contained empty or dirty water bowls and had no features that would encourage the animals to engage in "natural" behaviour, such as climbing for the primates or swimming for the tigers.

Gold's report points out that at all the zoos, the animals lacked privacy and were constantly on display. And he said that at all but the Calgary Zoo, animals exhibited behavior such as pacing or rocking back and forth that suggests they're psychologically disturbed.

Alec Graham, the head of the Calgary Zoo, said the report is simply superficial observations from by an organization trying to increase its donations.

Tohill says his organization hopes that new standards for zoos being developed by Alberta will lead to improvements at the roadside facilities.

"If you have a restaurant that doesn't meet fire marshal codes, it gets closed. We would hope when public safety are at risk and animal safety and animal health are at risk, that anything less than 100 per cent compliance would be unacceptable," Tohill said.

The new standards will come into effect April 1, and will require zoos to submit development plans for provincial approval.

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