Sunday, December 16, 2007

Animal sanctuary bid hits dead end; Thorold, Region staff advised against refuge

The St. Catharines Standard Local News - Saturday December 15, 2007


Supporters of a proposed animal sanctuary in Thorold might shed some tears to know those plans have been scrapped.

The Endangered Animal Rescue Society (TEARS) doesn't intend to reapply to the city to turn wooded property at Kottmeier and Holland roads into a sanctuary for sick, old or abandoned exotic animals, including reptiles, primates and lions.

This despite the organization pledging it would after council rejected its initial application in July to build the refuge.

TEARS' Chris Morabito said Friday he didn't see the point after staff reports from the city and the Region advised against giving the plans the green light.

"The planning departments for the City of Thorold and Niagara Region do not want it," Morabito said. "They are the experts in the exotics. They feel the land doesn't qualify for it so we respect their decision."

The land where Morabito and his family planned to house the sanctuary was identified by city staff as prime agricultural land and home to the ecologically sensitive headwaters of Twelve Mile Creek. A woodlot on site was also deemed an environmental conservation area.

Animal welfare groups, including the World Society for the Protection of Animals and Zoocheck, had spoken out against the sanctuary over concerns the proposal sounded more like a roadside zoo than a sanctuary.

The deciding factor for several Thorold councillors was that the Morabitos didn't comply with orders to stop work on the property after it was discovered they had removed trees and built animal pens without proper permits.

A political consultant for the organization said at the time the Morabitos would follow the procedures and make their pitch again.

But now, instead of building homes for the furry, feathered or scaly, Morabito said he'll likely build a family home. Selling the land to developers is another possibility, he said.

Deputy Mayor Ted Luciani, who voted against the proposal in July, was indifferent to the news the Morabitos would not try again.

"To me, it's one issue of hundreds I deal with in the course of a year. It's one issue we've dealt with and now it's time to carry on to the next issue," Luciani said.

He did, however, wonder what would happen to the animals the family had taken into their care.

Morabito said he will shop around his sanctuary proposal elsewhere. Exotic animal sanctuaries are needed, he said, so long as there is an exotic pet trade.

"There are other places in Ontario that are accepting of sanctuaries like what we want to do because they do know that people do buy these animals and that shouldn't happen," he said.

TEARS will also start charging for its services, such as picking up animals or stepping in to help other organizations that need assistance handling exotic creatures.

The Standard also received a tip the Morabitos were keeping reptiles at the Kottmeier Road site.

The city sent notification last week that they must be removed.

But Morabito said there are no animals on site and hadn't received the notice.

"I must be getting one," Morabito said. "You know before I do."

How You Can Help the Animals

Please take a moment to write a short letter thanking the City of Thorold and the Regional Municipality of Niagara for rejecting TEARS' application to open up a roadside zoo in Thorold.

Let them know that you support their decision and that you would like them to go one step further by enacting a municipal bylaw to ban the possession and display of exotic animals in Thorold. Please send your letters to:

Mayor Henry D’Angela
City of Thorold
3540 Schmon Parkway, P.O. Box 1044
Thorold, ON
L2V 4V7

Peter Colosimo
Senior Planner
Planning and Development Department
Regional Municipality of Niagara
2201 St. David’s Road, P.O. Box 1042
Thorold, ON
L2V 4T7

Animal Protection Institute - Captive Exotic Animals

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Controlling Navy Island Deer

Six Nations bow hunters, Parks Canada work together to reduce overpopulation

The Review – Local News: Friday, November 30, 2007


A cull to reduce Navy Island's white-tailed deer population is underway, in a partnership between Parks Canada and the Six Nations native reserve.

Members from several Iroquois communities are conducting an inventory of the island's natural resources, as well as reducing the deer population using only the traditional method of bow hunting, under an agreement with the federal agency.

"This could become an incubator for a new generation of hunters with traditional values and traditional skills," said Paul Williams, a Six Nations resident who chairs a committee overseeing the project. "

A sport hunter will go up to a dead deer and say, 'Look at the size of these antlers.' A traditional hunter will go over and put down tobacco and give thanks to the deer and thanks to the Creator for the amount of meat they will be able to take home to their families."

The venison will be consumed at the Six Nations reserve near Brantford.

"This is not a sport hunt. This is a strategy that's part science, part reducing the number of deer," said Kim Seward-Hannam, superintendent of national historic sites with Parks Canada.

There are between 60 and 80 deer on the 1.2 kilometre-long island on the Niagara River, according to a study conducted in 2002 for Parks Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. An island that size can really only sustain 10 or 15 deer, Seward-Hannam said.

Navy Island is located about seven kilometres upstream from the Horseshoe Falls. It is accessible only by boat and the land is maintained in its natural state. The island is considered a national historic site and visitors are not allowed to remove or damage any plants, shrubs or flowers.

Signs have been erected on the island to notify visitors of the project.

While there is a resident deer population, deer regularly swim to the island from nearby Grand Island and the Canadian mainland.

When there's a wealth of vegetation on the island, the deer population can be high.

"When the undergrowth gets depleted from years and years of eating, the number of deer that can be sustained is quite low," said Anne Yagi, a ministry biologist.

The animals basically eat "everything six feet and under," which can upset the delicate ecosystem on the island that includes several rare plant and tree species such as pawpaw and mockernut hickory, Yagi said.

Fort Erie conservationist and environmentalist Dan Andrews visits Navy Island often and says the damage caused by the animals is evident.

"The island is absolutely littered with deer. Some areas have been decimated by foraging deer and the forest floor is disappearing."

When there is no food, the deer are too weak to swim back to shore and many starve to death.

In past years, controlled hunts have been held to cull the herd.

Individuals would submit their names in a lottery-style program that limited the number of hunters on the island.

At least one local hunter is unhappy with Parks Canada's decision on the latest hunt.

"This is federal Crown land and everyone in Canada should have been given the opportunity to hunt there," said the Niagara Falls resident, who did not want to be identified.

The hunter participated in the last controlled hunt in 1997 and said he should have had the chance to return.

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters agrees the current deer population needs to be reduced, but the agency questions why licensed hunters cannot take part.
"Bow hunters will be hard-pressed to harvest the 50 or more deer it will take to begin to restore health to Navy Island herd," said Ed Reid, a wildlife biologist with the federation.

"It is hoped that in future Parks Canada will make the opportunity for Six Nations and licensed hunters to co-operate in a common conservation interest."

Reid said sport hunters also respect their quarry, and are as equally supportive of conservation projects as Six Nations communities.

Seward-Hannam reiterated the initiative is not a sport hunt, Rather, it's a collaborative project with aboriginal communities.

"They are helping us with the preservation and presentation aspects to restore natural resources," she said.

One of Parks Canada's goals, she added, is to work more closely with aboriginal communities on projects of mutual interest.

Reducing the deer population is the first stage of a larger project between the two groups.

The first phase is expected to last through January. Future initiatives include investigating ways to ecologically restore the island floor and to work together on archeological sites.

Meanwhile, research continues into the long-term effects a large deer population can have on the small area of land.

In 2005, Parks Canada and the MNR erected expansive barricades around certain areas of the island.

Known as "deer exclosures," the fences are designed to keep deer out and vegetation in.

"What we saw was a lot of regeneration of the forest in those areas and a lot of rare species coming back in," Yagi said.

According to the Niagara Parks Commission, which leased Navy Island from Parks Canada until 2003, the island's first inhabitants were natives who used it for fishing and building canoes.

They referred to the island as Big Canoe.

The French took over the island in the 1700s and used it as a naval base. At that time, the island was referred to as Ile la Marine or Navy Island.

Wicked Wild Life Fund

Thursday, November 22, 2007

What's Wrong with Horse Racing?

"They give their lives for our enjoyment." - Ron McAnally, horse trainer, after the breakdown of Go for Wand

Horse racing is considered by many to be a harmless sport in which the animals willingly display their speed, skill and agility. The truth is that these animals suffer and die for human profit and entertainment.

The Sport of Cruelty

Also known as the Sport of Kings, horse racing is a multibillion-dollar industry rife with cruelty, drug abuse, injuries to both the riders and horses, and many horses end up at the slaughterhouse when they are no longer profitable.

Stallions are over-worked and are kept isolated from other horses for years while females are subjected to an endless cycle of pregnancy that often involves the use of drugs and other artificial interventions.

According to the New York Daily News, “The thoroughbred race horse is a genetic mistake. It runs too fast, its frame is too large, and its legs are far too small. As long as mankind demands that it run at high speeds under stressful conditions, horses will die at racetracks.”

Racing to Death

While injuries and deaths are pitched by the media as unexpected accidents, as in the case of Barbaro, the undefeated Kentucky Derby champion who was euthanized after a series of surgical procedures to repair his shattered ankle, the reality is that hundreds of other horses continue to die on the tracks while thousands of others are sold for slaughter – their meat to be used in cat food or sold to European countries for human consumption.

Horses begin training or are already racing at an early age and when their skeletal systems are still growing. This makes them physically unprepared to handle the pressures of running on a hard track at high speeds. According to one study on racetrack injuries, one horse in every 22 races suffered an injury that prevented the animal from finishing the race. Another study found that approximately 800 thoroughbreds die in North America each year because of racetrack injuries.

According to Dr. David Nunamaker, a professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania and the chairman of clinical studies at New Bolton Center, fatal muscle and bone injuries occur 1.5 times per 1,000 starts, which means that approximately 704 horses died while racing in the United States and Canada in 2005 - almost 2 racehorse fatalities every day.

Some 30% of these fatalities occur during, or immediately after a race, and are caused by a broken leg, back, neck or pelvis, spinal injuries, heart attack or burst blood vessels.

Serious racing-related illnesses are now endemic with approximately 82% of flat race horses older than three years of age suffering from bleeding lungs (exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage). Gastric ulcers are present in no fewer than 93% of horses in training, where the condition gets progressively worse. When horses are retired, the condition improves.

Even with improved medical treatments and technological advancements, hairline fractures and strained tendons are difficult for veterinarians to diagnose and the damage may go from minor to irreversible at the next race or workout.

Horses do not do well in surgery and further injury may occur from the disorienting effects of the anesthesia or from fighting the casts or slings. An animals’ chances of recovery is further compounded by the fact that horses need to stand while recovering whereas humans can heal with bed rest or by using crutches.

“We're upset when it happens, but it's just part of the racing game." - General Manager of Virginia’s Colonial Downs, commenting on the deaths of five horses in eight days

Sometimes the animal’s survival is simply a matter of economics. Euthanasia is cheaper than veterinary fees and other expenses on a horse that can no longer race and care for a single racehorse can cost as much as $50,000 a year.

While the owners of Barbaro spared no expense for his medical needs, their display of compassion is the exception, not the rule. Magic Man was a horse who stepped into an uneven section of track and broke both front legs during a race at the Saratoga Race Course. His owner paid $900,000 for him but since the horse hadn’t earned any money and wasn’t worth much as a stud, the owner had Magic Man euthanized.

Addicted to Drugs

Many racehorses become addicted to drugs when their trainers and even veterinarians give them drugs to keep them on the track when they shouldn’t be racing. The New York Sun reported in May 2006 that “to keep the horses going,” they are given Lasix (which controls bleeding in the lungs), phenylbutazone (an anti-inflammatory), and cortiscosteroids (for pain and inflammation). Those drugs, although legal, can also mask pain or make a horse run faster.

Morphine, which can keep a horse from feeling any pain from an injury, was suspected in the case of Be My Royal, who won a race while limping. In 2002 a trainer was suspended for using an Ecstasy-type drug in five horses while another was kicked off the racetracks for using clenbuterol. The previous year a New York veterinarian and a trainer faced felony charges when the body of a missing racehorse turned up at a farm and authorities determined that her death had been caused by the injection of a “performance-enhancing drug.”

According to a former Churchill Downs public relations director, “There are trainers pumping horses full of illegal drugs every day. With so much money on the line, people will do anything to make their horses run faster.”

From Racetrack to Slaughterhouse

Few racehorses are retired to pastures for pampering and visits from caring individuals. Ferdinand, a Derby winner and Horse of the Year in 1987, was retired to a farm and then changed hands at least twice before being “disposed of” in Japan.

A reporter covering the story in 2003 concluded, “No one can say for sure when and where Ferdinand met his end, but it would seem clear he met it in a slaughterhouse.”

Exceller, a million-dollar racehorse who was inducted into the National Racing Museum’s Hall of Fame, was also reportedly killed at a Swedish slaughterhouse. A 2001 Colorado State University study found that of 1,348 horses sent to slaughter, 58 were known to be former racehorses.

The Whip

Another cruel yet acceptable practice is hitting racehorses with whips, apparently to make the horses run faster. An investigation by Animal Aid in the U.K. found that racehorses in a state of total exhaustion and out of contention were often beaten. The whip was used on the neck and shoulders, as well as on the hindquarters. According to the report, horses were observed being whipped 20, or even 30 or more times, during a race.

Whipping horses can be extremely painful and stressful for the animals, and in many cases reduces their chances of winning the race. One particular study, conducted between October and November 2003, found that 40 out of the 161 races surveyed(around 25%) had been won by horses that had not been whipped.

How You Can Help

“It’s nearly impossible to eliminate injuries to horses because the animal itself is a fairly frail structure.” - Bob Elliston, president of Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky.

Actually, it's quite easy to eliminate the suffering these animals endure. You can refuse to support your local racetracks and lobby against the construction of new ones. You can also educate your family and friends by telling them about the tragic lives racehorses lead.

For more information, please visit:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Vegan Story on Yahoo!

Some encouraging news for those of us who wish the mainstream media would report on more vegan/vegetarian issues.

Today, Yahoo Canada Lifestyles featured a story on vegan baking, and how it's come a long way from the whole-wheat flour and fruit-based sweeteners of the 70's.

To view this story, click on the link below:
Vegan baking today tastes better than it sounds

Visit the Meatout Mondays Website!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Animal sanctuary bid buys more time

St. Catharines Standard Local News - Thursday November 1, 2007


A group hoping to build an animal sanctuary in Thorold has more time to convince regional councillors it's a good idea.

The Endangered Animal Rescue Society (TEARS) has already been turned down by the City of Thorold, but plans to submit a new application. The group also needs a regional policy plan amendment.

On Wednesday, TEARS spokeswoman Tracey McCarthy asked regional councillors to support the amendment.

"This is a sanctuary for exotic and endangered species, a place for them to heal from abuse, to rehabilitate," she said in a presentation to the public works committee.

In a report, regional staff recommended refusing the amendment, noting the proposal "appears more like a commercial zoo than an animal sanctuary."

The report also noted unapproved construction and changes to the Thorold property at Kottmeier and Holland roads have resulted in stop work orders.

McCarthy admitted the organization erred in forging ahead without proper approvals.

She said TEARS is willing to work with municipal and regional staff to make the proposal workable.

She also gave a package of new information to councillors, which she said addressed staff concerns.

St. Catharines Regional Coun. Bruce Timms called the proposal "a great project that got ahead of the process."

Councillors supported his motion to defer a decision on the amendment until councillors and staff reviewed the new information.

Urgent! Please write to the City of Thorold and the Regional Council today asking them to reject TEARS' application to open up a roadside zoo in Thorold once and for all. See Letters Needed: No Roadside Zoos in Thorold for more information. Please address your letters to:

Mayor Henry D’Angela
City of Thorold
3540 Schmon Parkway,
P.O. Box 1044
Thorold, ON
L2V 4V7

Bruce Timms
St. Catharines Regional Councillor
Regional Municipality of Niagara
2201 St. David’s Road,
P.O. Box 1042
Thorold, ON
L2V 4T7

Peter Colosimo
Senior Planner
Planning and Development Department
Regional Municipality of Niagara
2201 St. David’s Road,
P.O. Box 1042
Thorold, ON
L2V 4T7

Adele Arbour
Director of Planning & Building Services
Planning and Building Services Department
City of Thorold
3540 Schmon Parkway,
P.O. Box 1044
Thorold, ON
L2V 4V7

Animal Protection Institute - Captive Exotic Animals

Canada's Position on Cat and Dog Fur Imports

A reader who visited our Fur Trapping page a few weeks ago wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressing his concerns about cats and dogs being slaughtered in China for their fur, and then exported to Canada.

The following is the response from the International Trade Minister:

October 29, 2007

Dear Mr. _______:

The Office of the Prime Minister has forwarded to me your correspondence of October 23, 2007, in which you raise concerns regarding the import of cat and dog fur. I appreciate the concerns expressed by fellow Canadians regarding the treatment of cats and dogs and the alleged use of their fur in clothing and other consumer items.

I am, however, concerned that adopting a Canadian import ban on dog and cat fur could undermine Canada's position against the implementation of foreign import bans on Canadian seal products.

The fur trade is a significant contributor to the Canadian economy and provides income for over 65,000 Canadians. In 2005, Canada exported approximately $361 million of fur products, including seal fur. The income derived from the export of seal fur, which is harvested through ecologically sustainable and responsible practices, is important to many aboriginal communities and others in remote and rural regions.

In fact, for sealing communities in Atlantic Canada, the hunt can contribute to up to 35% of their annual income. Furthermore, Inuit communities were hardest hit by the 1983 seal import ban imposed by the European Economic Community and the resulting global collapse in seal prices, despite the exceptions made for aboriginal hunters. Losing one of their few earned income options has serious economic and social effects on these communities.

I wish there were a more straightforward solution to the problem at hand but, unfortunately, imposing a trade ban on cat and dog fur, while responding to the concerns of one group, would have unintended, but serious economic and social consequences for another segment of Canadian society. Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns.


The Honourable David L. Emerson, P.C., M.P.

Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics

c.c.: The Rt. Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.

Please send your own letters to our government officials letting them know how you feel about this issue. See Fur Trapping and Ranching for more information. Thank you.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Animal Circuses: Fun for Whom?

Animal circuses have been entertaining the public for years, and conjure up images of humans and animals working together in a safe environment to amuse and astound children of all ages.

But circuses are no fun for the animals, who must endure fear, pain and psychological suffering for our pleasure.

Although the brutality of animal circuses has been hidden from the public's view for many years, a number of recent undercover investigations into some of North America's most popular circuses has revealed a dark yet pervasive reality of animal abuse, harsh training methods and poor animal welfare.

Animal Abuse

According to an elephant trainer in 2002: “If I get any defiance [from the elephants], I’ll beat the hell out of them. [The elephants] will disobey in public because they know I can’t hit them with a stick as much.”

Indeed, many circus animals have been beaten or abused in some way to make them perform. Steel rods, whips, bull hooks and electric prods, used to train and control the animals are considered 'tools of the trade'.

At a performance of the Tarzan Zerbini Circus in Lethbridge, Alberta in 2001, it was reported by the local newspaper that 80 patrons watched in horror as an elephant handler took three elephants back stage, lined them up in a row and started beating the middle one on the head with a club.

When interviewed, the owner of the circus explained that the witnesses "saw the wrong thing," that the handler was only gesturing to the elephant, not clubbing it, after the elephant had done something wrong. There was no investigation and no charges were laid.

Food and water deprivation, shackles, ropes and solitary confinement are also used by circus staff to make the animals perform or punish those who perform inadequately.

Cruel training methods and punishments have also been linked to human safety and is a major reason for accidents in elephant keeping. The use of physical punishment towards elephants is believed to build up 'resentment' in the animals, which may lash out at their handlers at some opportune moment.

As a former elephant trainer who testified before the USDA Investigative and Enforcement Services in July 2000 explains: "I can tell you that they live in confinement and they are beaten all the time when they didn't perform properly. That makes them dangerous and they want to get away."

Poor Animal Welfare

Wild animals in circuses also suffer from poor living conditions, prolonged confinement, isolation, insufficient stimulation and an inability to exercise natural behaviours. The stress of captivity can cause psychotic behaviours and aggression in some animals, while others become depressed and non-responsive.

For example, circus elephants can spend up to 95% of their lives in chains or tethers. Studies have found that confined elephants behave more aggressively towards humans and other animals than elephants that are able to move around freely. Crowded conditions and confinement, particularly amongst mammals, are also associated with adrenal hypertrophy and psychotic behaviour.

Circus lions and tigers are kept in beast wagons, small cages on wheels where the animals are forced to eat, sleep and defecate. These cages are designed for transport only and are inadequate as permanent housing since they offer no outlet for the animals’ instincts to explore, play, or hide away from the public when stressed. Still many performing cats spend the majority of their time on the road inside them.

While traveling from town to town, circus animals are kept in unheated or overheated vehicles, transport trailers and railroad boxcars with little or no ventilation for long periods of time.

On July 13, 2004, a two-year-old lion with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus died while traveling through the Mojave Desert in the U.S. in a poorly ventilated boxcar with no water. It is believed the lion died of heatstroke and dehydration.

Risks to Humans

Traveling acts that feature wild performing animals pose serious dangers to human health and safety as well. A significant number of people, including members of the public have been injured and killed by wild performing animals in traveling shows.

In 1999 a 23-year-old man was killed after being kicked in the head by a circus elephant in Timmins, Ontario. More recently, an elephant with the Shrine Circus trampled a trainer to death in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 2005. It is estimated that over 100 people have been killed by elephants worldwide since 1980.

Wild performing animals, such as elephants, pythons and non-human primates can also carry diseases harmful to humans, including tuberculosis, salmonellosis, hepatitis and the Ebola virus. Almost 90% of all macaque monkeys are infected with Herpesvirus simiae, or herpes B, a virus that is harmless to monkeys but often fatal to humans.

Circus Animals & the Law

Many circuses, including ones leased by the Shriners, have been cited in violation of a number of requirements for standard animal care by the United States Department of Agriculture and U.S. Humane Society.

These include failure to provide veterinary care, adequate shelter, nutritious food and clean water, as well as failure to handle animals in a manner that prevents trauma and harm. They have also been cited for regularly hiring inexperienced employees and failing to ensure public safety.

Unfortunately, circuses that neglect or abuse animals are rarely charged or punished and there are no federal laws specifically protecting performing animals in Canada. Only the province of Nova Scotia currently has standards for exhibiting circus animals.

Still, animal welfare is difficult to enforce since the circus is only in town for a day or two and local humane societies have neither the resources or appropriate training to deal with animal circuses or exotic species.

The Criminal Code of Canada, which hasn’t been seriously updated since 1892, does not address problems relating to the care, housing and training of performing animals. The Criminal Code is also punitive rather than preventative, and the very weak animal cruelty statutes are based on human misconduct to animals and not on the animals’ well being.

The End of Animal Circuses?

As more people become concerned about animal welfare, ticket sales at circuses with performing animals will continue to decline. On September 17, 1999, The Indianapolis News reported that “Attendance continues to dwindle when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus comes to town.”

Two years later, on August 17, 2001, the Wichita-Eagle wrote that Ringling had failed to secure a date at the Kansas Coliseum because of concerns about its declining circus attendance. Other circuses are also experiencing low turnouts so it is not uncommon today to see half empty arenas and shortened tour schedules.

This change can be attributed to the growing belief that animals should not be exploited for human entertainment. In an editorial on April 5, 2005 by the Philadelphia Daily News: “The circus elephants are coming to town next week, bringing an outmoded and problematic form of entertainment to all Philadelphians. Here’s hoping that this is the last year such an antiquated spectacle is welcomed within our city limits.”

Non-animal, or ‘all-human’ circuses are becoming increasingly popular and are seen as a more humane way to entertain the public. They feature acrobats, daredevils, illusionists and other talented performers displaying amazing feats of skill, precision and teamwork, instead of forcing wild animals to live and behave unnaturally.

Circuses like the Canadian-based Cirque du Soleil, which combines brilliant choreography and provocative music with stunning acro-gymnastic performances and dynamic displays of co-ordination and strength prove that animals are not needed to put on an exciting show.

A number of municipalities across North America have banned or severely restricted performing animals in circuses, traveling shows and novelty acts and both the Lion’s Club International and Kiwanis International have recommended to their local chapters not to use wild animal acts as fundraisers.

Even Shrine Clubs have been re-evaluating their policies on animal circuses. In 1997, the New Brunswick Shriners announced they would no longer use exotic animals in their circuses citing the negative publicity over the treatment of circus animals as one of the factors.

A few years later the British Columbia Shriners went ‘animal-free’ and in 2002, the Shriners of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island announced that they would be looking into alternatives to animal circuses for their fundraising initiatives.

These and other Shrine Clubs across Canada and the U.S. continue to help their communities by using non-animal alternatives such as their Christmas Fantasy Show, which features magicians and clowns for the children.

This trend will continue as more people learn about the true nature of animal circuses. Entertainment doesn’t have to include animal exploitation.

How You Can Help

Every ticket purchased for the circus supports the suffering, exploitation, and in many cases, the abuse of wild performing animals. Your decision not to attend circuses that use animals may be the most effective thing you can do to help them.

You can also share your views with family, friends and your community. If the public puts enough pressure on animal circuses to go 'animal-free', the circuses will have to adapt or risk even further declines in attendance.

If you want to become more active, you can contact your nearest animal rights group to learn what initiatives are being taken in regards to animal circuses. Perhaps you can join them the next time they distribute leaflets while the circus is in town.

Writing letters to your local newspaper(s) before the circus comes to town is an excellent way of expressing your concerns to a large number of people. See Writing a Letter to the Editor for tips on letter-writing. While you're at it, you can contact your local politicians urging them to enact laws prohibiting animal circuses in your area.

You can raise the issue today with Premier Dalton McGuinty and Monte Kwinter, Minister of Community Safety. Let them know that the exploitation of wild performing animals is archaic and cruel, and that being in close contact with such animals puts families at unnecessary risk. Ask them to enact legislation to protect these animals from further suffering.

Dalton, McGuinty, Premier,
Legislative Building
Queen's Park,
M7A 1A1
Fax: (416) 325-3745

Monte Kwinter, Minister of Community Safety
25 Grosvenor Street
18th Floor
Toronto, ON
M7A 1Y6
Fax: (416) 325-6067

The Slave Trade is Alive and Kicking

This column's for you, Beautiful Joe

Niagara This Week - Friday November 2, 2007

By Doug Draper, Reporter's View

When I was a kid growing up in Welland, one of the books on a shelf in my family's home was titled after a dog named Beautiful Joe.

Since two of my best childhood friends happened to be dogs -- a beagle named Jeff, who lived at our house when wanderlust didn't have him chasing rabbits halfway across Welland and Port Colborne, and a Lassie-like collie named Jamie, who was a prize of the Jones family across the street -- I was drawn to the book immediately.

But it was a tough read. Beautiful Joe was a novel, based on a story of a real dog from Meaford, Ont., whose ears and tail were axed off by a cruel master before being taken in by a family that did all it could to erase the abuse with kindness and love.

If the story sounds familiar, it should. There was a widely publicized story this spring of a puppy in Windsor, Ont., named A.K. by the humane society people who rescued him. The pup was found "whimpering on a balcony" of an apartment after someone with a heart of stone cut off his ears.

Yet more than 100 years after Canadian author Margaret Marshall Saunders received an award from the American Humane Society for raising awareness about animal abuse through telling the story of Beautiful Joe, one Ontario government after another has done next to nothing to toughen animal abuse laws that have long been among the weakest in North America.

To this day, any animal can be mutilated to the point of death in Ontario and the most the perpetrator can expect is six months in jail and a $2,000 fine under the federal Criminal Code, compared to far stiffer jail terms and fines they would face in many other jurisdictions.

The province of Ontario has no anti-cruelty legislation of its own and more often than not, all animal abusers get is a slap on the wrist.

Take the case five years ago of two young men in Toronto who filmed themselves skinning a cat alive in the name of art. To quote from a graphic account in a September 2002 edition of The Toronto Star: "The duo had grabbed the stray cat off the street, then hung it by the neck, punching, kicking and stabbing the helpless animal before it was skinned alive, had an eye gouged, an ear pulled off and was slit open as it moaned in agony."

In many other jurisdictions on this continent, this duo would have faced hefty fines, serious jail time and a ban of having anything to do with animals for the rest of their lives.

But not in Ontario, where our lawmakers care so little that the judge presiding over this particular case felt comfortable saying: "There are worse ways that this cat could have died," before sentencing one of these creeps to 90 days in jail, to be served on weekends, and let the other one go for time already served.

No wonder we continue hearing about one episode of animal abuse after another in this province, including such recent ones in Niagara as Queen Waldorf, the German shepherd found near Chippawa Creek in Niagara Falls with weights tied to a rope around her neck, and Lady and Tramp, the two snow white shepherds found almost starved to death near the outskirts of St. Catharines.

It wasn't until the A.K. case that Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty made a pre-election promise to strengthen animal abuse laws in the province, a promise Conservative leader John Tory, who advocates penalties of up to two years in jail, $60,000 in fines and a lifetime ban on pet ownership, rightfully described as a "forgive-me-for-not-acting-for-the-last-four-years announcement."

Indeed, McGuinty's Liberal government of the past four years, like its Mike Harris/Ernie Eves Conservative and Bob Rae NDP predecessors, never made the connection, shown in countless studies by police departments (including the FBI) and other researchers across North America, that there is an almost one-to-one relationship between someone who will kick a dog or cat and go on to commit violent crimes against people.

Up to now, elected leaders in this province have shown little recognition of the possibility that part and parcel of living in a civil society is showing respect for those most vulnerable among us, including animals.

Saunders put it this way, through the eyes of Beautiful Joe: "Thoughtfulness toward lower creatures (makes) people more and more thought toward themselves."

McGuinty had a habit of breaking promises during his first four years. Those of us who believe it's time for Ontario to jump from the 19th to 21st century when it comes to laws for protecting animals should make damn sure his pledge to set tougher laws against animal abuse is one he doesn't break.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Letters Needed: No Roadside Zoos in Thorold!

Earlier this year, The Exotic Animal Refuge Sanctuary (TEARS), claiming to be a non-profit registered charity, applied to the Regional Municipality of Niagara to build a public display facility in Thorold at the corner of Kottmeier and Holland Roads.

In July, the proposal was rejected by Thorold City Council because the applicants had repeatedly violated a number of municipal bylaws. According to newspaper reports, many councillors spoke in favour of the project, but couldn’t support the proposal due to a number of regulations that were broken.

“I like the people and I think they want to help the community,” Councillor Fred Neale said. “But there are certain rules and regulations that have to be followed.”

A detailed report recommended council reject the proposal based on a number of instances when stop work orders were ignored and building and tree removal occurred without proper permits. The report stated that to date construction continues on the property despite constant reminders to the owners to cease all work.

The report also noted the land is currently zoned prime agricultural and a consultant's report provided by the proponent didn't convince city staff that alternative locations had been sought.

Another issue city staff had was accepting the proposal as a "bona fide" sanctuary because of breeding programs, public displays, and use of the animals in the film industry.

Thorold City Planner Adele Arbour told council: "Although we appreciate the sincerity of the applicant and the family's commitment to the health and welfare of the animals, it is planning staff's opinion that the proposal seems to exhibit zoo-like characteristics."

Representatives from the World Society for the Protection of Animals and Zoocheck Canada both agreed the proposed sanctuary was, in essence, a zoo.

"The WSPA is very concerned that this proposed facility will not be a professional facility but a roadside zoo," said Melissa Tkachyk, programs officer for the Canadian branch of the WSPA. "I think if the applicants want to move forward with this endeavour they should at least change the name. Let's be clear, this is a zoo."

Rob Laidlaw, executive director of Zoocheck Canada, brought up the applicant's website in which photos of primates in diapers, and people playing with large cats grace the page.

"These photos do not depict what happens in a regular sanctuary," he said. "It says these animals are pets and this 'sanctuary' would be an extension of their pets."

He said the region does not need another roadside zoo attraction and urged council to accept the report and vote against the proposal.

Councillor Neale said a facility like this is needed in the region, but because the applicants did not follow the code, he couldn't support the proposal at the time.

Chris Morabito of TEARS acknowledged that the experience, while a "blow" to TEARS, was a learning one and that he and his family will try again, even if the sanctuary will be a private one. Story credit: Amanda Street. For the complete story, please go to:


TEARS, formerly known as Kris’ Reptiles (an exotic animal pet shop in St. Catharines), has previously displayed their animals at various public venues, including air shows and parades, to raise money for the sanctuary. It is now their intention to keep a number of large animals, such as lions, tigers and primates, and several reptile and bird species, at the Thorold location for public display and breeding purposes.

In a statement by TEARS, the facility would be open to the general public, tourists and special interest groups for a “donation” and the animals would be bred so “our great grandchildren can enjoy these animals and not just be seeing them in books.” TEARS also plans to provide animals for “TV commercials, movies and special promotions…a very lucrative market we are currently involved with.”

TEARS is not a real animal sanctuary

True animal sanctuaries are not open to the public, they do not engage in captive breeding programs and they don’t rent their animals out for film and television work.
The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada, for example, states on its website that “The DSC does not buy, sell or breed donkeys, mules or hinnies.”

At The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, elephants “are not required to perform or entertain for the public; instead, they are encouraged to live like elephants. As a true sanctuary, The Elephant Sanctuary is not intended to provide entertainment.”

The Elephant Sanctuary is closed to the public, relying on interactive video and multimedia computer technology, as well as wildlife documentary films and other outreach programs to educate children.

How You Can Help

Letters to the Mayor of Thorold and the Region are desperately needed. Aside from TEARS’ repeated disregard for rules and procedures, animal welfare and public safety issues must be considered. Some concerns you may want to address (keep it simple – only one or two points) include:

1) Close-up and “hands on” interactions with potentially dangerous animals jeopardizes public safety. Disease transmission is also a concern when humans come into contact with wild animals, especially primates, which can carry diseases fatal to humans. An animal escaping its enclosure also puts the community at risk (escapes are common at even the most established zoos).

2) Exhibits are often far too small to meet the animals’ physical and behavioural needs. Insufficient space can also be frustrating for animals that have adapted to living in large, open areas. Inappropriate social arrangements can also be detrimental to the animals’ mental well-being. Naturally social animals, like primates, are often kept isolated while solitary animals, such as tigers, are forced to live with others. .

3) Children today are learning about the importance of animals in their natural habitats and ecosystems. Seeing animals in cages does little to educate children about the animals’ natural lives, and undermines what they learn in the classroom.

4) Putting animals on display for human entertainment reinforces the belief that animals are here to serve our needs and desires. This ideology ignores the groundbreaking work of scientists like Dr. Jane Goodall, who recognize that animals are thinking, feeling individuals deserving of our respect and compassion.

5) Real sanctuaries do not keep their animals confined to cages, or breed and exploit animals for financial gain. True conservation efforts include preserving the species’ natural habitat and reintroducing animals to the wild. If there is no reintroduction program, then captive breeding only benefits the exotic pet trade industry.

6) There are over 60 animal facilities like TEARS in the province. It would not be to anyone's benefit, including the animals, to see this one go forward.

Please send your letters to:

Mayor Henry D’Angela
City of Thorold
3540 Schmon Parkway, P.O. Box 1044
Thorold, ON
L2V 4V7

Peter Colosimo
Senior Planner
Planning and Development Department
Regional Municipality of Niagara
2201 St. David’s Road, P.O. Box 1042
Thorold, ON
L2V 4T7

Ms. Adele Arbour
Director of Planning & Building Services
Planning and Building Services Department
City of Thorold
3540 Schmon Parkway, P.O. Box 1044
Thorold, ON
L2V 4V7

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Willy can educate us about the plight of animals in captivity

Letters to the Editor - Niagara This Week - Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sadly, if Willy (the escaped Syrian brown bear) has any purpose in life whatsoever, it is to educate humankind on the plight of animals in captivity. Prior to Aug. 7, I had never heard of Willy. Yet, since that day, I like others, have bonded with him.

I ponder Willy's meagre 15 hours of freedom. When the news reported Willy was spotted in a nearby creek, I'd like to believe he stopped to drink of the cool, flowing waters and hope he chanced upon free-swimming fish, awakening in him a long forgotten, albeit forged, ancestral instinct.

Did Willy have a chance to bask in the warm and rosy dawn of his first day of freedom, rekindling the will to survive unfettered in his new surroundings? Then, with a pang in my heart, I envision Willy recovering from the powerful sedative that took him down, only to awaken and gaze upon the electrified, barred, small enclosure where he must spend the rest of his days in servitude to a paying public.

My prayer for Willy is that he cherish those precious hours of freedom, for they must serve to last him his Earthly lifetime. Godspeed Willy!

L. Coleman
Lyons Creek Road
Niagara Falls

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Zooz gives the bear facts

RAY SPITERI / Osprey News Network Local News - Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Willy's escape from the Zooz animal park last week has "opened the eyes" of local emergency services and made the Stevensville theme park more aware of its responsibilities to the public, says Fort Erie Fire Chief Jim Douglas.

Douglas is putting together a report for town council next month outlining what municipal resources were utilized in the search and apprehension of the 135-kilogram Syrian brown bear.

He will meet with Zooz officials, Niagara Regional Police and other emergency personnel to formulate a detailed plan in the event a similar animal escape occurs again.

"This incident really flew under our radar," Douglas said, who was on scene with about 40 volunteer firefighters and dozens of police officers to assist with traffic control and help inform residents living in the immediate area of Zooz about what was going on.

Willy took a tour of the backfields in Stevensville after he burrowed his way under his enclosure at the popular tourist attraction around midnight last Tuesday. He was captured 15 hours later less than 500 metres from his home at the park.

Tim Tykolis, general manager of Zooz, said the family-owned business has an emergency preparedness plan in place but it has not been laid out for public emergency services.

"We look forward to meeting with everyone and getting a protocol on all of our files so that something like Willy's escape won't happen again. We want to cover all emergencies, including potential escapes, medical issues, fires and more," he said.

"We will do whatever it takes to ensure our animals remain here, our visitors can enjoy a peaceful and fun day out at the park and that the surrounding community feels safe."

Tykolis spoke at a town council meeting Monday where he thanked members of the Fort Erie Fire Department, Niagara Regional Police and the Niagara Falls, N.Y. sheriff's department, which deployed a helicopter to conduct an aerial search of the Stevensville area to find the runaway bear.

He also apologized for the interruption the incident caused to neighbouring residents and businesses, as roadblocks were set up at either end of Stevensville Road and on a number of side streets and back roads during the search.

Zooz has reopened except for a rear portion of the park that contains two bear exhibits housing four bears, including Willy. An additional backup system to Willy's pen is being installed - a special enclosure surrounded by a three-metre-high chain-link fence with a strand of electrified wire.

"We have already reinforced his enclosure and the parks perimeters," Tykolis said.

"Starting (today) and lasting four days, we will put concrete against the enclosure and install a fence liner about three feet under the cage."

Along with Willy burrowing his way about two feet under the cage, there was also a malfunction of the electrical system within the enclosure, Tykolis said.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Bear that escaped zoo finally captured

St. Catharines Standard Local News - Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A bear that had escaped a zoo in Stevensville has been captured and sedated near the corner of Fox and Ott roads in Fort Erie, police said Wednesday afternoon.

Police had been searching Stevensville by land and by air today in hopes of capturing the bear that escaped from the ZooZ animal zoo in overnight.

There's no official word on how the animal escaped although ZooZ officials said they were notified by a Stevensville resident who spotted the bear in town just before midnight.

The animal is about 136-kg and is a six-year-old Syrian brown bear.

The bear, named Willy, was born in captivity and has been at ZooZ for about five years.

Although the bear is accustomed to people, and has been described as "well-tempered" ZooZ officials note the animal is not used to direct interaction with people because visitors to the park are not allowed to feed or touch the animals.

Earlier Wednesday, Marianne Tykolis-Casey, one of the owners of ZooZ said, “We want our little Willy to come home, but our number one priority is the safety of the community.”

Police and other experts searched an ever-expanding area and a helicopter from the Niagara County Sheriff's office in nearby New York State was also been flying just above the tree tops in the largely rural area to try to locate the bear.

Residents were warned not approach the bear.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Captive Whales in Canada - An Introduction

Killer whales splashing excited spectators with their powerful fins, trainers riding bottlenose dolphins like water-skis and friendly beluga whales kissing wide-eyed youngsters – these are the images we conjure in our minds when we think of marine parks and other facilities that keep cetaceans.

But behind the carnival music and brightly coloured stages of the traditional whale or dolphin show lurks a dark history of exploitation, death and misery. From capture to transport to their final destination, cetaceans suffer and die in unnatural and terrifying conditions.

Forcibly removed from their homes and families, wild whales and dolphins that survive the capture process and subsequent trip to the marine park are then deposited into small and barren concrete tanks filled with chemically treated water in an attempt to replicate ocean conditions. Now unable to feed themselves, they must depend on park staff to provide sustenance. Animals must adapt to a completely new and alien way of life or die.

Captive breeding programs, justified by the industry as necessary for the survival of certain species, are in fact whale and dolphin ‘mills’ forcing them to breed and inbreed with other animals. This ‘stockpiling’ ensures a steady flow of replacements for those who succumb to the stresses of captivity.

Misleading the Public

Entertainment is peddled as education, conservation or scientific research. Capture and captivity are defended as necessary actions to protect whales and dolphins from the rigors and dangers associated with freedom in their natural habitats; dangers such as water pollution, whaling and predation from other species.

If people are not allowed to see these animals in a captive environment, the display industry argues, they will not care about animals in the wild. Marine parks also claim that whales and dolphins live better lives in captivity while affording the public the opportunity to learn about ocean life through ‘animal ambassadors.’

These arguments however, do not hold up to serious scrutiny. They are simply clever advertising strategies designed to mask animal exploitation. And like any other business, marine parks exist to make money. Profits always come before animal well being; the animals are simply a means to an end.

An Unnatural Life

It is impossible to provide whales and dolphins with their biological, behavioural and environmental requirements inside a concrete tank. Indeed, the trauma of capture and transport is almost as fatal as their captivity. The monotony of performing, the prevention of natural behaviours and the stress of captive life take its toll on the individual, often resulting in illness, disease and premature death.

Captive whales and dolphins are not suited for life in captivity and often develop abnormal behaviours, aggression towards other animals (including humans) and health problems directly linked to inadequate equipment, poor conditions or the careless actions of unsupervised visitors.

A Global Movement

These concerns have started a mass movement towards ending the capture and confinement of whales and dolphins. The more people learn about cetaceans, the more they find it unacceptable to imprison them. There are now several worldwide campaigns calling for an end to such practices.

Predictably, those who exploit animals for commercial gain will fight back harder than ever to retain control of their enterprises and profits. Marine parks will continue to justify their actions with pseudo-science and slick marketing ads while lobbying all levels of government, insisting that jobs will be lost and the economy will suffer if laws are passed to protect whales and dolphins from capture and display.

"No aquarium, no tank in a marineland, however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea. And no dolphin who inhabits one of those aquariums or one of those marinelands can be considered normal." - Jacques Cousteau

Friday, July 13, 2007

Canadian Marine Mammal Facilities

At least seven facilities in Canada have kept whales, dolphins and other marine mammals in captivity for various lengths of time. They include Marineland of Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium, the West Edmonton Mall and Sealand of the Pacific.

Marineland of Canada

Located in Niagara Falls, Marineland opened in 1961 with three sea lions on one acre of land and soon acquired bottlenose dolphins, seals, fallow deer and sea turtles. By the end of the 1970’s it had expanded to 1000 acres and housed bears, elephants, bison, lions, tigers, crocodiles, several species of birds and orca whales, among other animals. Most of these species had gone missing from the park by the mid-eighties.

In 1998, Friendship Cove, a $20 million whale habitat opened. At the same time, Marineland applied to the federal government to capture beluga whales in Manitoba’s Churchill estuary but was denied. The following year, Marineland imported three beluga whales from a military facility in Russia. Over the next four years, additional belugas, bottlenose dolphins and walruses were imported from Russia to the park.

In 2004, Arctic Cove opened as the new home for Marineland’s belugas. Future works include a shark and stingray exhibit, an interactive dolphin habitat and a number of aquarium complexes. Marineland also features a number of amusement park rides.

Over the years, the park has been found in violation of a number of environmental regulations and the owner was charged and fined $10,000 by the National Marine Fisheries Service for importing dolphins into the U.S. illegally.

Marineland’s animals have injured numerous people over the years, including a trainer who was dragged around a pool by an orca in 1986 and an 11-year-old girl who was bitten by a beluga in 2001. Countless children have reportedly been trampled, kicked and bitten by many of the park’s several hundred deer.

Currently on display are four orcas, eight bottlenose dolphins and twenty-five belugas, as well as walruses, sea lions, deer, bison, elk and bears. At least 40 cetaceans are believed to have died at Marineland since the early sixties. It is not known how many other animals have died there over the years.

Vancouver Aquarium

The not-for-profit facility opened in 1956 in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. In 1964 a sculptor was hired to find and kill an orca so it could be used as a model for the Aquarium’s whale sculpture. A young male was harpooned but survived. ‘Moby Doll’ was then put in a makeshift pen in Vancouver Harbour but died shortly after from complications brought on by the low salinity of the harbour water.

In 1967, a female orca and two beluga whales from Alaska arrived at the aquarium; three years later, six narwhals were captured for the Aquarium. All six narwhals died within four months.

There are currently four Pacific white-sided dolphins and five beluga whales at the Vancouver Aquarium. It is estimated that twenty-five cetaceans have died at the Aquarium over the years.

West Edmonton Mall

Billed as the world’s largest shopping center, the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta had four bottlenose dolphins captured off the coast of Florida in 1985 for display. Five additional dolphins were born at the WEM in 1992, 1993, 1996 and 2002, respectively, with all of them dying during or shortly after birth. By 2003, all the dolphins except one, Howard, were dead.

In 2004, under pressure from national and international animal protection groups to relocate the remaining dolphin and permanently close the dolphin lagoon, the WEM moved Howard to an aquatic park in the Florida Keys, to live out the rest of his life in the company of other captive dolphins. A year later, Howard died.

Sealand of the Pacific

The now defunct Sealand of the Pacific opened in 1967 in Victoria, British Columbia. It held several bottlenose dolphins around 1969 and 1970, and the first orca captured for Sealand was Chimo, a female albino in 1970. Nine other orcas were captured for the park between 1970 and 1992, with two births occurring at the facility.

In 1991, a part-time trainer slipped and fell into the whale pool after a performance. Three orcas, Tillikum, Nootka IV, and Haida II, dragged and repeatedly submerged the 20-year-old until she drowned. The park closed the following year when the city refused to renew its license.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Live Captures of Whales and Dolphins

The process of capturing cetaceans for the aquarium and marine park industry is cruel and invasive. Removal from their natural habitats requires chasing them with motorboats, netting and restraining them, and hauling them out of the water, all while the animals struggle to escape.

Seine-net captures is the most common way to catch dolphins. Small speedboats chase the animals until they are corralled and confined within the net. They are then placed in slings or onto stretchers and lifted out of the water by several people and into the boat.

Others are caught as they “bow ride” or swim in front of the boats. A pole attached to a collar and net is lowered over the head of the dolphin. Once the collar is around the animal the net attachment is broken. The animal swims away and becomes entangled.

Some animals become trapped in the nets and drown. Studies measuring changes in blood chemistry, stress protein levels and other factors have been directly linked to dolphins being pursued, surrounded and caught in the nets. Heart lesions have also been found in dead animals, which researchers link to stress.

Captives are deposited into small holding areas, sometimes no more than a wooden box with plastic tarpaulins, before they are transported by truck or plane to the aquarium or marine park. The journey may take several hours and their chances of dying from shock or stress-induced illnesses increase. According to a 1995 study, death rates for newly captured bottlenose dolphins shot up six-fold during their first five days of confinement.

In 1977, Marineland of Canada attempted to transport eight wild-caught bottlenose dolphins from Mexico to Canada when the plane illegally landed in Texas. U.S. officials seized the dolphins, releasing six of them into the Gulf of Mexico. They had been in transit for over eighteen hours and were reportedly going into shock before release.

The remaining two dolphins were handed over to Marineland and flown to Canada. The dolphins arrived at the park approximately thirty-six hours after their initial removal from Mexican waters. One of the dolphins died en route.

Orcas and belugas fare no better. Video taken in 1999 by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) shows Russian whalers rounding up belugas for the aquarium industry. The whales are seen thrashing about in nets, the water red with blood.

Some of the animals are hauled out of the water and lowered into boxes not much bigger than the whales themselves while tractors drag the others across the beach by their flukes (tails). The animals are then dumped on the floor of the aircraft, without support or restraint, to the aquarium or marine park.

Impacts on Wild Populations

The removal of animals from the wild can have negative impacts on the remaining individuals. A 2004 study on bottlenose dolphins indicates that certain animals are responsible for keeping their communities together. The loss of key members can be detrimental to the group.

Removing females may also cause the deaths of their dependent young. Research on wild orca populations show that when the mother dies, the young males have been known to die shortly after. Historically, captures have focused mainly on females; approximately two-thirds of all bottlenose dolphins captured have been females.

Captures of belugas, which take place in the summer when the animals travel into the shallow estuaries to feed, have been known to separate mothers and young, and cause strandings. Spontaneous abortions by pregnant females have also been recorded during capture attempts (one study revealed that 54% of females in Hudson Bay were pregnant, lactating, or both).

Discarded animals also suffer from the hunt and it is unknown how many die from the ordeal. Marine Animal Productions in Mississippi, who once rented dolphins to Canada’s Wonderland, estimates that for every dolphin taken, “three to four are encircled, handled, evaluated and released.” The numbers are even higher for belugas:

· In 1984, a joint Mystic Aquarium and New York Aquarium operation captured fourteen white whales to obtain four.
· In 1985, the Mystic Aquarium captured ten to obtain two.
· In 1987, the National Aquarium in Baltimore and the New York Aquarium captured ten to obtain three.
· In 1988, Sea World captured eighteen to obtain four.
· In 1992, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium captured twenty-four to obtain four.

Although captures from North American waters have declined over the years, they are increasing in other parts of the world. Russia and the Caribbean still remain significant sources of wild cetaceans for marine parks and aquariums in the United States and Canada.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Life in a Tank

To a wild whale or dolphin, everything in captivity is strange and unnatural, including separation from their natural habitat; forced idleness; direct control by humans; loss of life in normal social groups; drugs, medication, fertility control and caging – a total alien environment with artificial diets, unusual noise, strange odours and the unnatural proximity of both alien species and the human visitor.

A concrete tank is a poor substitute for the ocean, and it is impossible to recreate a whale or dolphin’s natural habitat; the ocean is infinitely too complex. Pool size, shape, depth and design are dictated by budgetary constraints and by satisfying the needs of the public instead of meeting the needs of the animals.

Animals that are accustomed to traveling up to 150 kilometers (90 miles) a day are forced to live in an area thousands, if not millions of times smaller. On average, a dolphin or whale tank is only six or seven times longer than the length of the animal itself. It only takes a few seconds for the animal to reach the other side of its ‘world.’

Chlorine and other chemical disinfectants are added to artificial seawater to keep the pools clean and clear, making it even easier for visitors to see the animals. This results in a barren, sterile and impoverished environment, yet aesthetically pleasing from the visitor’s point of view.

Compare this to a world made up of coral reefs, forests of kelp and seaweed, sand, rocks and ice. Wild animals are also able to enjoy the effects of storms and rolling tides while interacting with other ocean species. Life in a tank - sterile, smooth and devoid of everything that makes life interesting and challenging - is anything but natural.

Captives are also unable to achieve the necessary exercise they need for their physical, mental and social growth. Enrichment tools such as BoomerBalls, hoops, heavy ropes and Frisbees can stimulate mental and physical processes while reducing stress.

They also increase physical activity, which can have a positive effect on appetite, respiration and muscle function as well as providing the animal with some control over its environment. Unfortunately, enrichment tools are absent from most marine parks.

Inappropriate Social Conditions

While animals are isolated during their initial capture, transport and arrival, they are also separated from other animals during routine medical tests, pool cleanings and training sessions. Premature separation of calves from their mothers also puts stress on the animals and interrupts the natural process of learning skills necessary to survive. Some animals have been kept partially or completely isolated from other animals for years.

Others have even attempted suicide. Baby Jane, a pilot whale at Marineland of Canada, was reported to have “suicidal tendencies” after she began charging head-on into the metal bars of her holding tank a month after arriving at the park. According to eyewitnesses, she repeatedly smashed into the wall of her tank, blood gushing from a gash in her head.

A number of other whales have also been known to intentionally smash themselves into observation windows and the sides of their tanks. Sea World’s Kanduke (originally acquired from Marineland) was reported to occasionally beat his head against the gate until it bled.

Unnatural social groupings also lead to aggression among animals that are unable to avoid each other in a tank. Kanduke, a Pacific orca, and Kotar, an orca from Iceland, frequently exhibited aggressive behaviour towards each other. In 1987, Kotar bit Kanduke’s penis, turning the pool water red with blood and causing damage serious enough to cancel performances for the next two days.

In the wild, orcas do not solve their problems aggressively. Killer whales travel in kinship groups or clans and they do not have aggressive interactions. If other whales come along from a different group, they simply avoid each other. In a tank, this is quite impossible.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

At the Mercy of Humans

Captive whales and dolphins are forced to interact with humans on a daily basis, in the form of trainers, veterinarians and visitors. According to a former dolphin hunter, the animals are required to acknowledge the presence of, and eventually accept, contact with humans.

In the wild, animals have some control over various elements of their lives, for example, feeding, social interactions or pursuing a mate. In captivity they do not; the keepers and trainers choose and control everything. If the animals do not obey their masters, they may be isolated from the other animals, food may be withheld or unappetizing food (usually fish-heads) may be given instead as punishment.

Routine veterinary care, still relatively primitive, can be stressful to the animals and may actually harm them. Captive animals are regularly given antibiotics and other drugs, yet pneumonia - triggered by stress or a compromised immune system - is the most commonly cited cause of death in whales and dolphins.

Whales and dolphins, accustomed to hunting, catching and eating live prey, must learn to accept dead fish from their keepers. Eating dead fish instead of chasing down live ones is a tremendous change - dead fish are not recognizable to them.

Sometimes it is necessary to force-feed the animals through a stomach tube to keep the animal alive until it learns to accept an artificial diet. Some animals refuse to eat and eventually starve to death.

Vitamin and mineral supplements for the whales and dolphins are hidden inside the dead fish they’re given, which indicates that their diet is deficient in some way. Frozen fish is, in fact, lower in nutritional quality than live fish. The lack of dietary variety may also contribute to behavioural and other problems.

The careless actions of visitors are also a threat to the animals’ health. Autopsies reveal that a large number of dolphins and orcas have swallowed rubber toys, fishing buoys, rocks, coins and other objects, which may have contributed to their deaths.

The coffee shop at the Vancouver Aquarium, located next to the beluga tank, had to stop handing out straws with served beverages after it was discovered the belugas were choking on straws discarded by customers.

Petting pools can found at other facilities around the world, but Marineland is believed to be the only one that permits contact with orcas. While this encounter may be exciting for the guests, it can be extremely stressful to the animals, forced into the situation whether they want it or not.

Visitors who wish to pet and feed the animals are instructed by staff to remove all jewelry and watches first (to avoid ingestion and prevent the animals from accidentally hooking onto an object and pulling someone into the pool). This however is rarely enforced, and visitors regularly touch the animals with their jewelry on.

This puts both the public, and the animals, at risk. Human safety and animal welfare are compromised to provide the “unique thrill” of petting a whale or dolphin.

Training Methods & Performances

In captivity, cetaceans are trained to perform various tricks so they can entertain audiences. To properly train captive whales and dolphins, food is the key. Since the animals are unable to secure food from other sources, they must do whatever their trainers want. This gives the trainers considerable control over the animals.

When an animal performs a trick correctly, it receives a reward of fish (thus the purpose of the trainer’s whistle, to indicate to the animal that it has performed properly). When the animal does not perform to the trainer’s satisfaction, food is withheld. Known as operant conditioning or positive reinforcement, it’s really food deprivation.

Training can be very strict, and has been compared to the military method used in training soldiers. Captive animals are exposed to a lot of stress as a result, which they release through depression, aggression, or sexual activity.

Watching whales and dolphins perform various tricks may be exciting for the spectators, but they are abnormal behaviours to the animals. Wild cetaceans do not play basketball, tail walk or do water ballet. Nor do they propel humans into the air from their heads or allow people to ride on their backs as if they were surfboards.

Training whales and dolphins to perform these abnormal behaviours is the manipulation of an animal’s abilities - reinforced with the animal’s knowledge that food will be withheld if it doesn’t perform satisfactorily.

Unfortunately, whales and dolphins, without proper nurturing, or the opportunity to execute normal, natural behaviours on a regular basis, will gradually lose their foraging abilities. This has been known to manifest itself into aggression and other abnormal behaviours.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Shortened Lives in Captivity

Does captivity cause the premature death of cetaceans? This question has been debated for nearly as long as whales and dolphins have been on display. Marine parks and aquariums maintain that captive animals live just as long, if not longer, than animals in the wild.

Belugas and bottlenose dolphins can live up to 30 and 50 years, respectively while the latest estimates put the average life expectancy of wild orcas at 50 years for females and 29 years for males. The maximum life span for orcas is believed to be 60 years for males and between 80 and 90 years for females.

Of the 185 orcas held in captivity since 1961, only 26 have survived more than 20 years, and only two have survived for more than 35 years.

While comparative data between the longevity of wild and captive animals is limited, there have been some significant studies conducted showing captive animals live shorter lives than their wild counterparts.

For example, a 1997 study conducted by the International Marine Mammal Association (IMMA) compared survival rates of captive and free-ranging bottlenose dolphins, orcas and belugas. The information came from the United States Marine Mammal Inventory Report (MMIR) and data collected from studies conducted on free-ranging populations between 1973 and 1994.

Although the available data on free-ranging belugas was inadequate for comparison with captive animals, annual survival rates (ASRs) from both captive bottlenose dolphins and orcas were significantly lower than free-ranging animals.

These findings are disputed by an industry that continues to tell its visitors that bottlenose dolphins only live 30 years, an industry that has failed to improve survival rates for captive dolphins, even though this species has been kept in captivity for over 70 years.

Marine parks also underestimate orca longevity, claiming the average life span of orcas to be between 20 and 35 years. However, a 1994 study by the Center for Whale Research found that almost 65% of the 94-plus orcas in Washington waters were over 45 years of age. Field researchers in the Pacific Northwest also found, after more than two decades of studies that not one female between the ages of 12 and 25 had died.

Birth Rates

When a whale or dolphin is born in captivity, it is used by the industry as proof that the animals are happy and healthy. Most animals however, even those kept in less-than-satisfactory conditions, will breed if they are given the chance. The problem with captive-born animals is that they don’t live very long in captivity.

Birth rates for captive-born orcas, after more than 40 years in captivity, have been at best, no better than in the wild and have almost certainly been worse. Of the 185 orcas in captivity and 74 known pregnancies, only 33 calves have survived past the first year.

Captive-born dolphins are no better off, even though this species has been kept in captivity even longer, approximately 70 years. Still, the captive display industry continues to state that high numbers of infant mortalities are normal, as they also occur in the wild.

This position however, contradicts the industry’s argument that the animals are better off in captivity, protected from the dangers of an otherwise harsh environment.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Canadian Cetacean Mortality Rates

Over forty whales and dolphins have died at Marineland since the early sixties – with an estimated twenty-two animals dying between 1998 and 2005. Still, Marineland claims that its animal welfare record is better than any other facility in North America.

Mortality rates for animals captured from the wild are difficult to calculate since the exact birth dates are unknown. However, captive births and deaths are reported by the media and occasionally by the display facility itself.

· Of the eleven orcas born at Marineland, ten are dead. The average age was 4.8 years. At the Vancouver Aquarium, all three captive-born orcas died within 3 months.
· Only two dolphins have been born at Marineland, one in 2001 and the other in 2003. The former died fourteen days later; the latter is currently alive. All five dolphins born at the West Edmonton Mall died at, or shortly after birth. No dolphins have been born at the Vancouver Aquarium.
· Four belugas have been born at Marineland, two in 2002 and another two in 2003 (in which one died at birth). Of the three belugas born at the Vancouver Aquarium, two have died, the average age: 1.6 years (Qila, born in 1995, is still alive).

Including the mortality rates from the Vancouver Aquarium, the average age of captive-born orcas in Canada is approximately 3.75 years, far below the display industry’s own estimates.

Causes of Death

Marine parks and aquariums often state that captive cetaceans are safer than ones in the wild. The industry contends that marine mammals in controlled environments are spared many of the problems affecting their counterparts in the wild, including such things as parasites, predators, natural toxins, natural disasters such as freezing, pollution, variations in the availability of food, and the need to compete with man for food.

However, necropsy results on captive animals include parasites, chlorine toxicity, zinc poisoning and possible toxic fish accounting for some of the deaths. At Marineland, the Vancouver Aquarium and the West Edmonton Mall, whale and dolphin deaths have been attributed to parasites, pneumonia, twisted intestines, as well as “rare diseases” and “undetermined causes.”

In January 2002, a Pacific white-sided dolphin known as Whitewings underwent a “routine medical procedure” to remove debris such as stones and pinecones from her stomach. According to the veterinarian, an employee with a long, skinny arm reached down the dolphin’s throat into her stomach to remove the debris. The dolphin died shortly after.

Other “official” causes of death include old age, and illnesses or injuries the animals may have acquired before coming to the facility. Parasites were blamed for the death of Marineland’s first beluga whale, Paige. The park claimed she died from liver failure caused by parasites that the animal obtained some time ago in the wild and that she was quite old and at the end of her life expectancy. Paige was only 4 years old.

Causes of death for captive bottlenose dolphin calves include lack of maternal skill (on the part of the mother), lack of proper fetal development and abnormal aggression from other animals due to the artificial social environments and confined spaces.

If captivity is better than facing the day-to-day challenges of living in the wild - no predation, round-the-clock veterinary care, and the “best diet and medical care available,” then captive cetaceans should enjoy the same, if not longer, life spans, compared to those in the wild. Clearly they do not.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Health and Safety Risks at Marine Parks

While marine parks and aquariums are reluctant to release incidents of human injuries caused by their animals, it is difficult to suppress when several hundred spectators are watching.

Accounts of whales and dolphins injuring, attacking and even killing members of the public also surface periodically in local newspapers, or are caught on film by park visitors and released to television stations.

Over the years, Sea World trainers in the United States have sustained numerous injuries while performing with the orcas, including bites during feedings, ruptured kidneys, lacerated livers, fractured bones, and near drowning. In a 2004 report to the United States Marine Mammal Commission (MMC), the University of California found that captive animals had injured more than half (52%) of marine mammal workers.

Numerous injuries have also taken place at Marineland. In 1986, an orca dragged a trainer around the pool by his leg after he fell into the water during a stunt. An 11-year-old girl required four stitches to close a wound on her thumb after a beluga bit her during a petting session in 2000. In 2002, an orca fell out of its tank during a staff Christmas party. Luckily, no one was underneath the whale when it came crashing down, but the potential for injury was there.

In a joint Canadian Federation of Humane Societies/Zoocheck Canada report written in February 1999, concerns about human safety at Marineland were highlighted and submitted to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The following observations were documented:

· Children leaning over the plexi-glas barrier in order to pet the orcas at Friendship Cove,
· Adults holding their infants entirely over the pool (with the dorsal fin of one of the orcas hitting one of the child as the whale swims away),
· Visitors touching the blow holes of the whales,
· Young children sitting on the concrete wall at the deep end of the pool.

According to the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) Standards of Animal Care and Housing, “security must be provided to safeguard the animal collection and the general public,” while the public “should be prevented from directly contacting potentially dangerous animals by use of double fencing or other barriers.”

Unfortunately, the standards set by CAZA for its members (which includes Marineland and the Vancouver Aquarium) are only voluntary. Because marine parks and aquariums encourage its visitors to feed and touch its cetaceans, accidents and injuries will continue to occur.

The Tragic Death of Keltie Byrne

The drowning of Keltie Byrne is perhaps an example of the worst that can happen. In 1991, the 20-year-old University of Victoria marine biology student and part-time trainer slipped and fell into the orca pool at Sealand of the Pacific. One of the whales took her into its mouth and dragged her around the pool, most of the time holding her underwater.

The champion swimmer broke free and tried to escape, but the three orcas prevented her from exiting the pool. At one point Byrne tried to climb out but the whales pulled her back in. The girl was screaming as other staff members tried to distract the orcas but nothing would work.

Keltie Byrne drowned as she was held underwater, caught inside the mouth of one of orcas as it swam around the pool. It took several hours for her body to be recovered. Sealand closed in 1992.

Communicable Diseases

People who come in contact with whales and dolphins are at a high risk of contracting infectious diseases. According to the MMC report, 18% of respondents reported respiratory illnesses, including diseases such as tuberculosis, while working with marine mammals. Workers exposed to marine mammals for more than 50 days a year were three times more likely to contract a respiratory infection.

It is often difficult to diagnose and treat infectious diseases contracted from whales and dolphins; physicians may be unaware of the signs and risks, and the diseases may go unnoticed. Regular and prolonged contact with cetaceans increases a person’s chances of contracting a disease.

Curiously the West Edmonton Mall prohibited contact between the public and the dolphins, not only because the animals become stressed when forced to interact with strangers, but because the risk of disease transmission between species was too great.

As long as the public is allowed to touch wild and exotic animals, they and the animals will be exposed to unnecessary risk.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Victims of Captivity


Perhaps the world’s most famous orca, Keiko’s life began in the North Atlantic, off the coast of Iceland, in 1977 or 1978. In 1979, the young orca, barely two years old, was caught in a herring fish net, separated from his pod and taken to Saedyrasfnid, an Icelandic aquarium.

In 1982, Keiko was sold to Marineland in Niagara Falls. One of six orcas at the park, he was the youngest and most timid. By 1985, Keiko started to develop skin lesions and it was evident that his health was failing. Marineland sold him to Reino Aventura, an amusement park in Mexico City for $350,000. There he was forced to perform five shows a day, in a small tank, alongside bottlenose dolphins and sea lions.

In 1992, Warner Bros. began filming Free Willy with Keiko as the lead. The film, about a boy, a whale and an attempt to rescue it from the marine park, was an instant success, especially with millions of schoolchildren, when it was released the following year. Moviegoers were asked to call a toll-free number, displayed at the end of the movie, demanding Keiko’s release. More than 300,000 people from around the world did so.

With his health further deteriorating, steps were taken to find Keiko a new home. In January 1995, the Free Willy Keiko Foundation was formed and millions of dollars were raised to move Keiko from Mexico to a new rehabilitation facility at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in the United States, which took place the following year. It was the first time Keiko had experienced real seawater in fourteen years.

By the end of 1996, he had gained over 1,000 pounds, could hold his breath for over 13 minutes, had lost most of his skin lesions, and was mentally alert and engaged. In August 1997, Keiko was catching and eating live fish.

In September 1998, he was flown to a protected holding pen in Klettsvik Bay off the coast of Iceland. There, his rehabilitation continued although he was suffering from a possible liver ailment and respiratory infection.

Over the next few years, Keiko’s progress continued, surprising everyone as he ventured out to sea, interacted with wild orcas and competed with other animals for food. Keiko was behaving just like other wild whales.

On December 12, 2003, Keiko succumbed to pneumonia and died. As the marine park industry is quick to point out, animals, whether in the wild or in captivity, will succumb to illness. Critics have suggested that perhaps Keiko wasn’t the best candidate for release. Nevertheless, Keiko died with dignity and spent the last years of his life free.


Another Icelandic orca, Kandu was born around 1978 and captured for the marine park industry in 1984. He was brought directly to Marineland and kept in a small concrete tank until Friendship Cove, the “world’s largest whale habitat” was completed 14 years later. Kandu was transferred to Friendship Cove shortly afterwards but was kept isolated from the other orcas, except for breeding purposes.

On December 21, 2005, Kandu died of unknown causes. He was 27 years old, half the normal life expectancy of wild male orcas. He spent most of his last years by himself, floating motionless; his dorsal fin flopped over. Kandu sired all the captive-born orcas - eleven in total - at Marineland. Except for Athena, they are all dead.


In November 1980, three orcas were captured off the coast of Iceland and taken to the Vancouver Aquarium. Vigga was sent to California a year later but Bjossa and Finna remained together for 17 years, until Finna died from a bacterial infection in 1997.

Bjossa gave birth to three calves over the course of her life. The first died because Bjossa could not nurse it properly. Her second calf survived for three months before succumbing to a brain infection. The third died moments after birth from labour complications.

In 2000, Bjossa was taken from public display after she contracted a respiratory infection and later the next year was sent to Sea World in San Diego. Bjossa became seriously ill and on August 20th had a “near-death experience” but survived. On October 8, 2001, Bjossa died of a chronic lung infection. She was 21 years old.


For more than four years an Icelandic orca named Junior lived in a small, indoor tank at Marineland, devoid of sunlight, fresh air and normal companionship. It was reported that the park was trying to sell the whale for $1.2 million but there were no takers. In 1994, the surplus whale that nobody wanted died.