World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)

World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)

October 12, 2005 13:00 ET

New report on Alberta zoos released today

New report by World Society for the Protection of Animals documents animal welfare and public safety problems at four Alberta zoos; New Alberta zoo standards first step, says WSPA Attention: Assignment Editor, City Editor, Environment Editor, Photo Editor, Government/Political Affairs Editor CALGARY, ALBERTA--(CCNMatthews - Oct. 12, 2005) - The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), in Calgary today to launch their new report Failing the Grade: Alberta Zoos Five Years On, says that zoo standards introduced this month are an important first step in addressing animal welfare and public safety problems in Alberta roadside zoos.

"The Minister of Sustainable Resources is to be congratulated," said WSPA Campaigns Manager Pat Tohill. "The new standards incorporate a number of the things we'd been calling for and are an important first step toward protecting captive wildlife, zoo staff, patrons and neighbouring communities. Having said that, WSPA's new report is a reminder the province is still a long way from having solved its zoo problems."

Dr. Ken Gold, a zoo expert with 25 years experience as a zoo keeper and manager at professionally accredited zoos in the United States, Europe and Asia was asked by WSPA to rate zoo exhibits at four Alberta zoos. While deficiencies were noted in all 20 exhibits and at all four zoos, all five exhibits reviewed at Calgary Zoo and four out of five exhibits at Valley Zoo received passing grades. In contrast, all five exhibits reviewed at Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail and Guzoo Animal Farm failed the audit, as did the Valley Zoo's white-handed gibbon exhibit.

Animal welfare concerns identified at Guzoo Animal Farm and Discovery Wildlife Park included animal enclosures which lacked shelter and privacy areas, water bowls that were dirty or empty, and a lack of cage features and furnishings designed to stimulate natural behaviours, such as climbing structures for the primate species on display and pools for the tigers to swim in.

In the "safety" category, both private zoos received scores of 'zero' out of a possible three marks on four out of five enclosures. Discovery Wildlife Park was criticized for keeping tigers and lions behind "flimsy", "low fences" with only "one strand of hotwire at the top." According to the auditor, these animals could "potentially jump out if motivated". Guzoo Animal Farm was criticized for "inadequate" barriers that could allow the public to "reach through the fence and get bitten" as well as a lack of "double door entry or shift cages for safely entering/cleaning the exhibit." In contrast, the two city zoos each got full marks for safety on four of five enclosures.

"Some of these exhibits are accidents waiting to happen," says Tohill. "At both roadside zoos, bears, tigers, and other big cats were kept behind flimsy fences less than three metres high without an overhang. 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."

At each zoo, Dr. Gold audited five animal exhibits, deducting marks from an original score of 50 as deficiencies were identified in the following categories: appearance, behaviour, exhibit space, barrier, substrate, features and furnishings, shelter, privacy, environmental conditions, safety and signage. Loss of more than 10 marks was considered an unacceptable number of deficiencies, resulting in a failing grade.

"Some exhibits were absolutely appalling from an animal welfare standpoint," said Melissa Tkachyk, WSPA Campaigns Officer, who accompanied Dr. Gold during the investigation. "Animals in some cases were deprived access to clean water. Others had barely enough room to turn about. Quite a number lacked shade, shelter and opportunities for animals to exercise their natural behaviours. The fact that the audit is looking for the presence or absence of essential conditions that should ideally be present in every exhibit makes this all the more disturbing. Clearly many improvements are needed if all Alberta zoos are to meet the new standards."

The report draws a distinction between municipally-funded operations such as Calgary Zoo and Valley Zoo which Dr. Gold says are "light years" ahead of the other "less professional, privately managed operations" such as Discovery Wildlife Park and Guzoo Animal Farm. Calgary Zoo, for example, received high marks on a number of exhibits: the snow monkey exhibit was praised for the many climbing opportunities (branches, ropes, etc.), the grizzly bear exhibit was likewise praised for "promoting species-typical activities and behaviour" and the timber wolf exhibit was called "excellent".

That's not to say there was no criticism of Calgary and Valley zoos. Most Calgary Zoo exhibits lost marks for providing only "minimal shade" and the elk enclosure received a less than perfect score for safety and the white-handed gibbon enclosure at Valley Zoo failed WSPA's audit. In his additional comments, Gold also criticized a number of exhibits he had not selected for audit. The indoor primate exhibits and the giraffe exhibits at Calgary were called "substandard", the hippo exhibit was called "very small" and the elephant exhibit was described as an "old style design - lots of hanging enrichment but still too small". And Valley Zoo, Gold says, "had some quality exhibits, but needs to update and add additional space to older exhibits including their sea lions, swift fox and elephants."

"From what we've seen of the new standards, they should eliminate most of the problems the auditor identified, provided they are properly enforced," said Tohill, returning to the subject of zoo licensing. "Guzoo Animal Farm has, in the past, openly flouted conditions attached to its zoo permit which should have resulted in the denial of permit renewal for that facility. For the new standards to succeed, anything less than full compliance is unacceptable."
/For further information: For more information, to view some video, or to download the report see

To schedule an interview, obtain broadcast quality footage, or a printed copy of the report, contact:

Pat Tohill, Campaigns Manager (416) 898-9448 mobile
Melissa Tkachyk, Campaigns Officer (416) 712-3468 mobile

Contact Information

  • Pat Tohill, Campaigns and Communications Manager, World Society for the Protection of Animals
    Primary Phone: 416-898-9448
    Secondary Phone: 416-369-0044
    Toll-Free: 800-363-9772