Animals at Greater Vancouver Zoo are being failed: report

Jan 6 2020, 12:18 pm

The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) is calling on the Greater Vancouver Zoo (GVZ) to make changes to its facility after releasing a report claiming the animals are being failed.

The VHS said it commissioned the report completed by Zoocheck, a wild animal protection charity, that reads animals are living in “barren, under-sized cages and enclosures that restrict them from engaging in natural behaviours” at the Aldergrove-based facility.

In a phone interview with Daily Hive Vancouver, spokesperson Peter Fricker said that the VHS has been monitoring the zoo for years, and for this report, researchers went to the zoo on a number of occasions last year and in 2018 to observe the animals’ behaviour, the enclosures and living conditions, and compared them to other facilities.

Fricker said that the VHS made multiple attempts to meet with the zoo’s management to discuss the report’s findings, and after not hearing back most recently in December, decided to share the report with the public now in hopes that people will reach out to the zoo with concern as well.

Photo courtesy the Vancouver Humane Society

Fricker said the largest concern for the VHS detailed in the 42-page report is the “lack of enrichment at the zoo.”

“By ‘enrichment’ we mean either behavioural or environmental enrichment,” he said.

Fricker describes ‘behavioural enrichment’ as providing animals with an environment that stimulates them with access to natural activities, such as digging, climbing and foraging, and physical tasks that simulate challenges that they would find in their natural habitat, “burying food or hanging it from trees or burying various scents, even providing sort of large toys for the animals called puzzle feeders,” which he said are large toys with food inside that the animals work to get to.

Fricker said lack of enrichment indicators with captive animals include repetitive actions from boredom and frustration, calling it “a form of mental or psychological suffering.”

“When I went out there [the zoo] recently, I noticed that the Siberian tiger was pacing along its fence line, and you can see that its actually worn a path around that perimeter, so it’s doing it on a daily basis,” Fricker said.

Photo courtesy the Vancouver Humane Society

“Similarly if you look at the giraffes you’ll see they will chew on metal bars and lick the bars and that’s another recognized symptom of animals being bored and frustrated due to captivity.”

Fricker said the report also states that giraffes are not suited for BC’s climate, suggesting the zoo either move the animals to a climate-controlled enclosure or relocate them to a facility more appropriate elsewhere.

Photo courtesy the Vancouver Humane Society

Fricker said the VHS would like to see the zoo develop a comprehensive environment and behavioural enrichment program for its animals, have the undersized enclosures and cages removed or enlarged, and that the animals not suited for BC’s climate not be kept there anymore.

A spokesperson from the zoo was not available for comment, but provided a statement with its future development plans, including “the inauguration of the ‘Conservation and Education Center'” this year.

It said in 2021 half of the zoo will become a “Safari Park” for a “Canadian nature experience,” it will be further enriching the lives of the animals in the large feline complex by redesigning the habitats in 2022.

In 2023 it will be replicating a piece of Africa so animals will live in an “immense area” and will cohabitate with one another as they do in their natural habitat, and that more projects are being discussed for future years, “the preservation of endangered species is a priority for GV Zoo.”

Photo courtesy the Vancouver Humane Society

The statement read that animal health and welfare is the zoo’s primary concern, as well as animal enrichment through its “comprehensive enrichment program” to promote healthy psychology for the animals at the facility, and that the zoo is committed to conservation, by striving “to protect, preserve and restore the natural environment, including wildlife, vegetation, and natural ecosystems.”

Fricker said the VHS will be monitoring if there are changes made or not at the zoo, and in the meantime, it has set up an email campaign online, “which allows the public to go on the site and send a prewritten message to the zoo.”

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