Peter Hamilton: Closure of Stanley Park petting zoo is victory for animals
In spite of a misleading information campaign by the pro-zoo lobby, the Vancouver park board has decided to finally close the Stanley Park “farmyard” in January 2011. The shutdown could help stop the petting-zoo-industry cycle of abuse and will end the board’s last zoo-animal business in Stanley Park.
The pro-zoo folks have repeatedly said that animal families would be broken up if the petting zoo closes. In 2009, lead animal attendant Shirley Schebel told a local newspaper, “They’re our babies, all of them. Most of these animals have been born and raised here. This is their home. They don’t know anything else.”
However, Lifeforce obtained the park board’s “Stanley Park Children’s Farmyard List of Acquisitions & Dispositions”. As we suspected, most zoo “homes” were not forever and numerous “families” were broken up. In addition, according to staff, there were “no specific written or oral agreements” to prevent abuses when animals were disposed of. The animals can be sold, traded, and given away for free. Their future safety is not guaranteed!
Between 2000 to 2009, the “farmyard” acquired 42 animals plus six bunnies in 2008 that were not on the list. They disposed of 65 animals. That is at least 113 animals that changed hands.
Park board staff would not provide animal inventories from 1990 to 2000. In 2009, Schebel said that there were approximately 150 animals. But there was no accurate accounting.
It was 1988 when Lifeforce told park commissioners of animal abuse at the Fraser Valley Auctions. FVA was where the park board sold petting-zoo baby animals. The board said that the sales would be stopped. In 2008, Lifeforce did a yearlong investigation of FVA and found sick, injured, abused, dying, and dead animals.
The 2000-2009 list of acquisitions and dispositions revealed that the park board continued to do business with a petting-zoo operator and breeder that sells animals to FVA. Albert Anderson, owner of Aldor Acres petting zoo, received one Barbados sheep in 2002 and nine chickens in 2000. In addition, the zoo received six bunnies from him in 2008 (the ones not recorded in the list).
In view of this history, one can only conclude that there were never any happy families of animals at this petting zoo. The frightened animals were continuously chased and poked at by endless visitors. Some were isolated for breeding.
Shockingly there were no contracts to guarantee humane retirement homes for their “babies”. How many ended up at the auction after their cuteness was exploited? How many were abused? How many ended up on dinner plates?
In order to protect these animals and parkland, Lifeforce has asked the park board:
1. To provide written agreements that will guarantee that all of the animals will be given to humane, permanent retirement homes.
2. To guarantee in writing that the animals shall not be sold or given to any animal businesses such as petting zoos.
3. To guarantee that these animals will not be slaughtered for food.
4. To return the petting-zoo area to natural parkland and/or to use it to promote the ecology of Stanley Park. This land must not be given to the Vancouver Aquarium for more expansion to promote marine wildlife imprisonment.
As the sun finally sets over this animal menagerie, we look forward to the day when the suffering of captive and performing animals has ended. Petting zoos are baby production businesses and pose serious health threats to unknowing people. They also misrepresent the harsher reality of inhumane food animal production. Zoo and aquarium prisons are remnants of a Victorian era in which animal collections were to amuse the rich and entertain the poor.
In an enlightened world, all wildlife will be treated with mutual respect and their freedom shall be protected in their natural habitats. Captivity is a failed education and conservation ploy by the entertainment industry. We will only save animal communities when we understand the importance of their natural lives.
Peter Hamilton is the founding director of Lifeforce, a Vancouver-based nonprofit organization promoting animal rights and ecological responsibility.