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Calgary Zoo joins coalition to provide legal protection for big cats, exotic animals in Canada

The excitement by families, school groups, and the occasional reporter to see a tiger was immediately apparent on Tuesday, at the Calgary Zoo.

For the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo, Tuesday was also the big launch of their participation in support of the Jane Goodall Act.

Precisely because of the public’s interest in exotic animals including tigers, Senator Marty Klyne is re-introducing the bill during the 44th parliament session.

The bill would phase out exotic animals at roadside zoos, while still allowing for animal care, conservation, and non-harmful scientific programs at at accredited zoos, aquariums, and animal sanctuaries.

Alberta’s Guzoo, a private animal facility, had big cats at one point.

Senator Klyne said he was happy to be working with leading Canadian zoos on the bill.

“Their expertise and passion have contributed to strengthening the bill to ban new captivity of lions, tigers, bears and hundreds more species at roadside zoos,” he said.

Across Canada there are up to an estimated 4,000 privately owned big cats, and approximately 1.5 million exotic animals.

The bill received Goodall’s stamp of approval, leading to her lending her name again to the act.

“I am honoured to lend my name to this world-leading legislation that is supported by a wonderful coalition of government, conservationists, animal welfare groups and accredited zoos,” she has said.

“Together we can and will provide a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves and put an end to the misery that is wildlife trafficking.”

New legal protections for exotic species

Under the Jane Goodall Act, new legal protections would be created for big cats, bears, wolves, sea lions, walruses, certain species of monkeys and dangerous reptiles.

Captivity of elephants in Canada would also be phased out. The Calgary Zoo made the decision to move their elephants to larger and more climate appropriate facilities in 2012.

Former Senator Murray Sinclair, who also chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, sponsored bill S-218 in 2020. It was previously read for a first reading prior to the last federal election. Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith was set to sponsor the bill in the house if it had passed the senate.

“When we treat animals well, we act with both self-respect and mutual respect,” said Sinclair.

The bill would create new criminal code violations pertaining to prohibitions on owning, breeding, or possessing reproductive materials for certain species. These include dolphins, great apes, elephants, and other designated animals under the act.

After a finding of guilt, the act would also require an inquiry to be held to determine what actions should be taken to best protect the interests of the animals at interest by the courts. This could include surrendering the animal to a court named animal welfare authority, or relocating the animal to another facility or sanctuary.

Provisions in the bill would allow for exceptions for licensed zoos engaging in conservation and species survival programs.

No operational impacts for the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo

Alison Archambault, director for brand and engagement at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo said that there would be no operational impact to the organization should the bill become law.

Dr. Clément Lanthier, president and CEO of the zoo, said that the bill would continue to ensure that welfare of captive animals would meet the standard the zoo already sets.

“Every day at Canada’s leading zoos, our amazing teams of dedicated specialists work to ensure that the animals we love receive exceptional care,” he said.

Archambault said that there was a big difference between the care that big cats receive in Calgary, versus what they receive at roadside zoos.

“Not all zoos are the same quality and certainly private big cat owners aren’t the same as accredited zoos that do conservation work and education,” she said.

Preventing the next Tiger King

She said that the zoo was accredited by the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums and World Association of Zoos and Aquariums because of the level of care they provide. The zoo meets the size and complexity needed for a tiger habitat. It meets safety requirements for the animals, staff, and the public.

And it also meets the dietary requirements of the tigers. Which according to Archambault, is both costly, and requires a stable supply chain and the professional logistics provided by veterinarians, nutritionists, and zoo staff.

Significant levels of both outrage and interest in the treatment of big cats followed Netflix’s 2020 series Tiger King.

In January, CBC reported that Ontario Provincial Animal Welfare Service officers, allowed for the relocation of four lions in Ontario that ate a tiger at a private zoo in Maynooth.

In 2019, more than 200 animals were seized by the Montreal SPCA from a roadside zoo in St-Édouard-de-Maskinongé, Quebec. Those animals were subsequently cared for by Humane Society International.

“HSI/Canada has witnessed the suffering and deplorable conditions in roadside zoos, having intervened to rescue hundreds of animals from such facilities,” said Rebecca Aldworth, executive director for Humane Society International/Canada.

“We fully support this landmark act, to help prevent cruelty and neglect, reflecting Canadians’ desire to protect captive wild animals.”