World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)

World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)

October 04, 2005 10:00 ET

Ontario zoos failing the grade

Animals suffering, public at risk, says report Attention: Assignment Editor, Environment Editor, News Editor, Photo Editor, Government/Political Affairs Editor TORONTO, ON--(CCNMatthews - Oct. 4, 2005) - The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) issued report cards today to 16 Ontario zoos. Twelve failed (75%). At a news conference at Queen's Park today, the group also issued a report card to the province of Ontario and the McGuinty government, assigning an overall grade of "F" for failing to properly regulate zoos.

"The province must address the rampant animal welfare and public safety problems associated with keeping captive wildlife," said Pat Tohill, WSPA Campaigns Manager. "Standards must be brought forward that cover native and exotic wildlife and safeguard the visiting public and zoo employees. Until this happens, Ontario's zoos and the Ontario government itself will keep failing the grade."

The group's new report Failing the Grade: A Report on Conditions in Ontario's Zoos is based on a series of zoo exhibit audits conducted this spring. Dr. Ken Gold, a zoo professional with 25 years experience working at some of the world's better zoos, assigned a failing grade to 66 of 80 (83%) exhibits he reviewed.

At each zoo, the auditor was asked to assess five animal exhibits choosing from at least five of the following six categories: bears, primates, big cat species, wolves, ungulates and other small mammals. WSPA then assigned zoos passing or failing grades based on whether a majority of five exhibits passed or failed the exhibit audits. Of the 16 zoos audited, all zoos had at least one exhibit fail and 11 received failing grades on all five exhibits.

"The results are extremely disturbing as the audit looks for the presence or absence of essential conditions that should ideally be present in every zoo exhibit," explained Melissa Tkachyk, WSPA Campaigns Officer. "When it comes to satisfying these conditions, many Ontario zoos don't even come close!"

She went on to say that "some exhibits were so small, there was barely enough room for the animals to turn around" adding that "At almost every zoo visited, animals were displaying some form of abnormal behaviour-pacing, rocking, excessive grooming." "These animals," Tkachyk said, "are disturbed and suffering as a result."

Among the worst exhibits were a young bear in a small, dirty cage without any shade, a kangaroo housed on an extremely hard substrate with no room to properly jump and six tiger exhibits that were either very small-severely restricting the animal's natural range of movements-or housed the animals on hard-packed earth or concrete.

When it comes to safety, 36 out of 80 exhibits assessed (45%) received a zero out of a possible three points. "Some of these exhibits are accidents waiting to happen," says Tohill. "Flimsy cages and flimsy, low barriers will likely lead to more animals escaping. The past dozen years have seen a number of people injured and killed in Ontario by captive exotic wildlife such as tigers, lions and monkeys."

With the exception of Ontario and British Columbia, all Canadian provinces require some sort of permit or licence to keep wildlife, regardless of whether the species is native or exotic. Ontario only requires those keeping certain species of native wildlife in a zoo to obtain licences and attaches very few conditions to these permits. At present these conditions are vague, undefined and, as indicated in the report, clearly not enforced.

"Anyone at all can keep a lion, a monkey or a kangaroo in the province of Ontario and there are no regulations whatsoever to ensure their proper care," said Tohill. "It should be obvious that a licensing regime that applies to less than a third of the animals kept in Ontario zoos and does nothing to safeguard the public from dangerous animals is not only inadequate, it's irresponsible."

He added: "Those few zoos that are able and willing to conform to professional animal welfare and public safety standards should be required by law to do so. Those that can't should be closed."
/For further information: Editors Note: The following zoos passed the audit: Toronto Zoo (Toronto), Jungle Cat World (Orono), Muskoka Wildlife Centre (Severn Bridge), Zooz Nature Park (Stevensville). All of the following zoos failed the audit: Bear Creek Exotic Wildlife Sanctuary (Barrie), Bergerons Exotic Animal Sanctuary (Picton), Bowmanville Zoo (Bowmanville), Colasanti’s Tropical Gardens (Ruthven), Elmvale Jungle Zoo (Elmvale), Greenview Aviaries Park and Zoo (Ridgetown), Killman Zoo (Caledonia), Lickety-Split Ranch and Zoo (London), Northwood Buffalo and Exotic Animal Ranch (Seagrave), Papanack Park Zoo (Wendover), Pineridge Zoo (Grand Bend), Twin Valley Zoo (Brantford)

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) 819-7424 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