Toronto

Bowmanville Zoo director steps down amid animal cruelty charges over alleged tiger whipping

Michael Hackenberger is stepping down as the director of the Bowmanville Zoo after he was charged with animal cruelty based on a video that surfaced last year that appeared to show him whipping a tiger.

WARNING: Video contains graphic imagery

Michael Hackenberger is stepping down as the director of the Bowmanville Zoo after being charged with animal cruelty.

Michael Hackenberger is stepping down as the director of the Bowmanville Zoo after he was charged with animal cruelty based on a video that surfaced last year that appeared to show him whipping a tiger.

Hackenberger announced his move on the zoo's Facebook page Wednesday evening, shortly after the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) announced the charges.

"While I am not guilty of the charges against me, the welfare of the zoo and the animals that it serves has always been my principal concern. To this end I am standing down from the position of Director of Bowmanville Zoo until such time as this legal matter is resolved," Hackenberger said on Facebook.

"To all who have reached out in support I thank you. Your encouragement has been a tonic in these difficult times."

The OSPCA said Hackenberger is facing four counts of causing an animal distress and one count of failing to comply with the prescribed standards of care for an animal.

Three of the charges of causing an animal distress are in relation to the use of the whip, the agency said.

"Animal cruelty is a serious offence," OSPCA senior inspector Jennifer Bluhm said in a release.

"Our investigative unit has spent significant time reviewing the facility and interviewing all involved. Our priority is always the health and welfare of the animals."

The OSPCA said it began investigating the abuse allegations right after seeing the footage, which was released by PETA last December. The agency is conducting a separate investigation of the zoo, and said it will monitor the animals there closely.

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