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Zoo group challenges 'erroneous' statements made at Sault Ste. Marie City Council

Zoocheck Canada argues it's not anti-zoo because it works with zoos on animal relocations
Zoocheck Canada has offered to move Ben the Bear and other animals from the controversial Spruce Haven Nature Park and Pet Resort to accredited sanctuaries at no cost to the city or zoo owners

Toronto-based animal welfare advocacy group Zoocheck Canada is contesting a statement made at last week's City Council meeting by a representative of Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA).

As SooToday reported on Feb. 7, Dr. Andrew Lentini, chair of CAZA's ethics and compliance committee, described ZooCheck as "an anti-zoo organization funded for the sole purpose of advocating shutting down zoos."

Dr. Lentini is also curator of reptiles and amphibians at Metro Toronto Zoo.

Julie Woodyer, campaigns director for Toronto-cased Zoocheck Canada, sent us a letter to the editor, arguing that her organization isn't anti-zoo because it works with zoos on animal relocations.

Zoocheck has offered to move carnivores from the Sault's controversial Spruce Haven Nature Park to accredited sanctuaries at no cost to the city or zoo owners.

Next week, Sault Ste. Marie City Council is expected to vote on a new bylaw that would outlaw zoos, giving facility owners six months to wind down their operations.

Ward 1 Councillor Steve Butland and Ward 2's Susan Myers will argue that Spruce Haven should be granted a 'grandfather' exemption to allow "the natural demise of the aging animals currently at the park."

The zoo's owners are committed to winding down operations without accepting any new animals.

Zoocheck's Woodyer is expected to travel to the Sault to address the meeting.

Next week's meeting will be livestreamed on SooToday starting at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 20.

The following is the full text of Zoocheck's letter to SooToday:

New animal control bylaw an opportunity for animals and residents of Sault Ste. Marie

During the past few months, Sault Ste. Marie City Council has deliberated on the city’s animal control bylaw and the keeping of wildlife in captivity.

During this time, a number of erroneous statements and claims have been made that we would like to correct.

We also want to take this opportunity to point out that this entire debate has the potential to lead to a very positive outcome that benefits everyone involved.

As one of Canada’s leading wildlife protection organizations and the only one specifically focused on wildlife in captivity, Zoocheck has led the fight to improve the lives of captive wildlife, protect human health and safety and conserve wildlife in the wild for more than 33 years.

During that time, we have worked with a wide variety of collaborating partners including independent experts, other organizations, sanctuaries, zoos, members of the media and representatives of government.

Since a great deal of our work on zoos in Canada has focused on reform and regulation, and because many of our campaigns have been conducted in collaboration with zoos or members of the zoo industry, we are extremely surprised that anyone would erroneously label Zoocheck as an anti-zoo organization.

They clearly haven’t done their research because we routinely work with zoos.

In fact, our relatively recent high profile animal relocation involving the last three surviving Toronto Zoo elephants was conducted with a special elephant transfer team partially comprised of elephant staff and veterinarians from the AZA-accredited Oakland Zoo and the Alaska Zoo, as well as one of the world’s leading animal management consultants who instructs zoos on how to properly manage their animals.

Currently, Zoocheck is working to relocate an elderly polar bear from Mexico to the United Kingdom, a project that is being done in conjunction with zoos in both Mexico and the UK.

This relocation has also received assistance from staff of the Detroit Zoo and Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat, as well as from other zoo industry members.

There have been much other similar collaborations throughout the years.

We are aware that the Spruce Haven Zoo owners have expressed fear for the safety of some of the animals should they be relocated.

That may be due to their lack of experience in moving older animals.

In fact, the transport of elderly animals by zoos, sanctuaries and reserves is relatively commonplace.

It’s particularly unfortunate in this case that members of the zoo industry have been trying to exploit that fear for their own purposes, but it’s something they have done before.

Zoo industry members claimed that if the Toronto elephants were moved, they would die on the way, yet all did well during the trip and arrived safe and sound at the world-renowned PAWS sanctuary in California.

In fact, in each of Zoocheck’s animal relocations, people opposed to the moves claimed the animals were unfit to travel and would die on the way, but none ever did.

Unfortunately, some people also don’t seem to realize there is a significant risk posed to senior animals when they remain in less than ideal conditions.

Relocation to better conditions can mean enhanced welfare, greater comfort, a more stimulating and engaging old age and a longer life.

When the Calgary elephants were moved, a senior zoo staff member said the potential welfare benefits to the animals were worth whatever risk there might be in moving them.

This is also true for the carnivores at Spruce Haven Zoo, which we have offered to move to accredited sanctuaries at no cost.

There would also be a benefit to the other non-dangerous animals at Spruce Haven as resources currently allocated to the carnivores could instead be used to improve the conditions and care of the remaining animals.

An added bonus would be that Spruce Haven’s owners would not be saddled with the responsibility and potentially enormous veterinary costs of caring for carnivores in their declining years.

More than 580 residents of Sault Ste. Marie have signed a petition urging council to take action to help the Spruce Haven animals.

That petition will be presented to council during their meeting later this month.

We encourage concerned residents to attend the meeting to show their support for finally bringing this bylaw and this issue to a close in a way that benefits everyone involved, including the animals.


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