This week, Kathryn Sussman and Zoocheck founder Rob Laidlaw discuss current issues regarding zoos and the ways in which not all zoos are the same. They summarize the differences between large well-established zoos – that are often certified, governmentally run and operated by big professional teams, – animal sanctuaries, and a large number of other kinds of zoos – mid-level zoos, small urban zoos and particularly roadside zoos that are privately owned and operate with minimal funding.

They call out the minimal levels of care and management in small mom and pop zoos through the latest news coverage around the country. Be it the Roaring Cat Retreat that was stopped from opening its doors to the public in Grand Bend, Ontario, the case of the St-Édouard Zoo in the small community of St-Édouard, Québec, where the lack of proper facilities and care led to the animals being seized and the owner arrested with criminal charges – a Canadian first, – or the recent Wild Connections education facility proposal in Kearney, Ontario, that would potentially expose visitors to a dangerous set of interactions with wild animals.

Listen as Kathryn and Rob explain that what most of these small scale initiatives have in common is that they put members of the public in likely lethal contact with wild animals, whereas in professional zoo institutions, any interaction with potentially dangerous animals, particularly big cats or bears, for instance, is strictly forbidden.

“Every major zoological institution does not recommend even professional tiger or big cat keepers to be interacting, except if they are hand rearing very young cubs, or unless the animal has been sedated, so there should be nobody allowing people, from the public to interact with big cats. That should just not be happening.” – Kathryn Sussman.

Rob and Kathryn offer tips on how we, as visitors at a zoo, can be mindful to avoid accidents and unnecessary interactions with wild animals that puts them under an enormous amount of stress and could put us in danger. Rob’s belief is that there are four factors to look at in any situations where you can see animals in captivity to ensure that they are being properly cared for, therefore showing that the zoo is a ‘good’ one:

  • Animals need as much space as possible to move and behave normally.
  • Animals need to have freedom of choice and they can have the ability to choose what they’re going to eat or do in a barren environment or with whom they are going to associate.
  • Animals need to be in a proper social context; they shouldn’t be alone or overcrowded.
  • Animals need things to do.

Among the many recommendations Kathryn and Rob offer in this podcast, the most important one would be to look for information on animal welfare and on the zoo that you are visiting, prior to trusting their judgment of what is right or wrong.

Now you know!

Be part of the change!

  • Avoid facilities that allow you to touch or interact with wild animals.
  • If you find yourself at a facility where this is something that is offered, do not participate, and speak out, letting them know your displeasure.
  • Reduce the demand of animal use in movies and as tourist attractions by not paying to see or attending facilities where animals are used in these ways.
  • Support movies in which animals are portrayed in 3D animation such as Tim Burton’s Dumbo.
  • Demand changes to laws and bylaws, particularly in municipalities that still allow the use of wild animals under some circumstances.
  • If you do go to a place and see an animal participating in unnatural behaviors or interacting with humans, then this is a clue that you are not at a reputable facility and you shouldn’t be visiting; speak out to authorities about what you saw.
  • Don’t rely on framing, it can’t be used as determining the quality of a zoo because smaller zoos as well as bigger zoos can use the technique more or less successfully.
  • Help us spread the word by sharing this podcast in your network.

What’s next?

Write to your local MP about any facility you feel is questionable and ask for appropriate standards of care for all animals in your jurisdiction.

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