Peter Hamilton: Shutting down the Stanley Park petting zoo is the right decision

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      By Peter Hamilton

      Times should be a-changing for the Stanley Park Children’s Farmyard, also known as the petting zoo. In the 1990s, Vancouverites voted for no zoo in Stanley Park. The petting zoo, a remnant of a past era, should now be closed. On November 25, the park board voted to shut it down, but the battle for the captive animals’ freedom continues.

      The propaganda of the pro-zoo folks borders on fear mongering. They claim that the animals will not be provided with better homes and animal “families” will be split up. Their attacks include unfair criticisms of park board commissioners faced with tough decisions due to hard economic times. On top of this, an untruth being circulated—that the park board turned down a $1-million donation to the petting zoo—no doubt angered many who wrote letters in protest. This lobby is not interested in promoting Stanley Park’s free wildlife treasures.

      The truth is that peaceful retirement homes would be provided for all of the animals. Many would be allowed to run freely and feel the earth. Presently most are kept in substandard conditions. In sanctuaries, they will finally escape the constant chasing, petting, and noise.

      Zoo supporters admit that there must be improvements, and staff may get rid of the bird and reptile menagerie. After all these years, that is too little, too late.

      For years, zoo defenders claimed it was educational. Now they want to redefine it as an “educational tool”. But they still don’t know what to do. Both sides now appear to agree that there hasn’t been any true education. It didn’t connect people to how food is produced. It didn’t provide an opportunity to make humane and healthy food choices. The nature of this beast dictates that it never will.

      Petting zoos hide inhumane intensive farm practices, “free range” abuse, cruel transport, and violent slaughter. They do not expose the long-term chaining of isolated calves and the veal stalls. They do not expose the pig gestation crates and farrowing stalls. People do not see the cruelty that is inherent in the meat and dairy industry. In addition, the petting zoo is secretive about its factory farming connections.

      In 1988, Lifeforce stopped the selling of petting zoo animals to auction, where they were mistreated and later sold for food slaughter. Abuses included piglets being repeatedly kicked like living footballs and peacocks wrapped up with chicken wire. We found similar connections to dealers in 2008. A staffer confirmed to Lifeforce that they had first “borrowed” bunnies for their Easter display from a petting zoo breeder who dumps most of his animals at the auction at the end of the entertainment season.

      Last month, staff didn’t even know exactly how many animals they had. One staffer told the Vancouver Sun the petting zoo contained about 150 animals, including reptiles, birds, and “a bunch of rabbits and guinea pigs”. Each individual should be respected. They are not countless commodities.

      One group wants to change the focus of the petting zoo to help preserve farmland. Their plan could include a “Backyard Chicken 101” for any city farmers. However, Stanley Park is not farmland. Community gardens should be used for agriculture education—not animals and parkland. Teaching respect for animals can come from nature walks and volunteer work at animal sanctuaries.

      The Stanley Park Children’s Farmyard is a haphazard collection of animals where people may be exposed to serious pathogens. The vast majority of people do not go and attendance records are pitiful. Let’s shut it down and use the existing buildings for an improved Stanley Park ecology centre. That is a legitimate park use. There, people would learn about the diversity of fauna and flora living freely in the park. Zoo supporters state that they want to keep the petting zoo as one of the city’s “inexpensive entertainment options”. Take off those blinders—Stanley Park itself is a free nature experience for all to enjoy.

      Peter Hamilton is the founding director of Lifeforce, a Vancouver-based organization that promotes animal rights and ecological responsibility.



      daniel doull

      Dec 8, 2009 at 8:10pm

      I've got to say that the politics of animal rights are a touchy subject. It isn't like religion, but it's touchy. In general, petting zoos are a bad idea because they don't teach people to respect nature, pure and simple. As long as children have landscaped parks down the street from their house instead of forests, and animals in caged pens instead of in the wild, we will not have respect for nature.


      Dec 8, 2009 at 8:25pm

      I completely agree that the petting zoo should be closed. I think it sends the wrong message to the children that we want to educate. We should be teaching children about the animals who live wild and teaching them respect for all life, not teaching them that animals belong in captivity, kept for our amusement.


      Dec 8, 2009 at 10:43pm

      As far as I can tell, most of the farmyard's inhabitants are very large and very friendly goats. I've seen a couple of LifeForce writers hinting that the current farmyard animals must be abused, but I don't think I've ever seen any animals better treated or more interested in being petted (and I mean petted, not fed, since feeding by visitors is not part of the plan there). I have problems with wild animals kept in cages - that's why I haven't been to a zoo in 20 years. I have problems with animal abuse on farms - that's why I've been vegetarian for 20 years. But I don't have a problem with domestic livestock being handled by humans in the most comfortable conditions for livestock that I've ever seen.
      In terms of education, if you actually want kids to care about the environment and animal welfare, then figure out a way to create a feeling of love and connection with individual animals at an early age.

      Evil Eye

      Dec 8, 2009 at 10:46pm

      God, the comments are worthy of a very boring, no-fun, grade "B" city. Why don't we ban children altogether in Vancouver, as they are seen as a hindrance. Vancouver is no-fun, no-class city and after the Olympics - a no tourist city.

      Jamie Rivet

      Dec 8, 2009 at 10:53pm

      Could not agree more with Peter Hamilton. I hope the city (and other places) move to end this form of enslavement and exploitation of animals.


      Dec 8, 2009 at 11:37pm

      I couldn't agree more with this article. Close the petting zoo!

      Animals are not disposable, stuffed toys for amusement. Petting zoos only serve to sugar coat the truth that animal husbandry is a harsh, brutal reality for countless animals.

      And the urban backyard chicken craze? Another backward step for animals.

      Peter Hamilton is right...the real education our children need, is the kind that actually benefits animals by teaching respect for them in their natural habitats. How fortunate we are to have Stanley Park...let's enrich our childrens lives by teaching them more about the unique flora and fauna right there!


      Dec 8, 2009 at 11:43pm

      Stanley Park is very beautiful on its own and does not need a petting zoo to teach children and others about nature.

      westend parent

      Dec 9, 2009 at 6:54am

      This is a very biased article. Most of these animals were rescued from horrific living conditions and live comfortable lives. Should we close down the Vancouver Aquarium as well?


      Dec 9, 2009 at 7:19am

      LOL I love it - we're talking about a children's petting zoo.

      Not a big, bad wildlife zoo that commits unspeakable horrors on wild animals by putting them in cages, but a petting zoo that contains mostly farm animals.


      Dec 9, 2009 at 8:43am

      Two articles in the past month by PETA mouthpieces. That's a bit disconcerting. Are you going to start letting the intelligent design folks have monthly Georgia Straight columns soon?