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Why Ontario Needs To Take A Hard Look At The Animal Cruelty In Its Zoos

While many of us advocate against animal cruelty in a number of ways, when it comes to zoos, we often turn a blind eye — I know I certainly did for a long time. I had never really reflected on what zoos represented and how the animals were treated behind those bars. They were such a “normal” part of my childhood and I became so desensitized to them that I never really questioned their ethics until I reached adulthood.

They’re seen as an attraction, a form of entertainment meant to please the modern man, and so we ignore the fact that animals are suffering for our benefit. Zoos have been around for a long time, and you may have visited one years ago as a young child, or more recently with your own children; as a result, we’re indoctrinated into considering them “normal.”

When you really stop and think about it, however, zoos are just jail cells for animals who have done nothing “wrong.” We force them to lead their lives behind bars because we wish to observe them, even if that means keeping them in cages and forcing them to live in unnatural, and often times, unsafe environments. The irony is that we, as humans, are committing inhumane acts.

A lot of people assume that zoos in North America are “morally superior” to those in other countries, but that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, Ontario is home to some of the worst zoos in the country when it comes to animal cruelty.

Why Ontario Zoos Are Some of the Worst in Canada

Zoos have been under a lot of scrutiny in Ontario of late, and for good reason! This summer, undercover footage taken in a zoo in Southern Ontario, Papanack Zoo, revealed animals in “deep distress,” exposing the mistreatment that occurs within this zoo and the tiny environments in which these animals are forced to live out their days.

The video shows staff members prying open the mouths of a raccoon, skunk, and bobcat using wires and you can also watch the staff mishandling the animals. A Papanack Zoo employee was also heard detailing how he “smashed” a baby lion in the face numerous times as hard as he could as part of the animal’s “training.”

You can watch the clip below:

This isn’t the first accusation against this particular zoo, and the Ontario SPCA confirmed that it is “aware of animal cruelty allegations” against Papanack Zoo and is conducting a formal investigation into any potential illegal activity regarding provincial animal welfare laws.

However, Ontario is well-known for being fairly lenient toward zoos, aquariums, and other organizations that exploit animals for entertainment purposes.

Camille Labchuk, an animal-rights lawyer and executive director of Animal Justice Canada, reported:

For me, Ontario is the worst place in the country for animals in zoos. The province has long taken a hands-off approach to zoos, aquariums, and exotic animals more generally. You can’t build a patio in your backyard in Ontario without first getting a permit, yet it is still perfectly legal to open a zoo without getting a license, receiving training in animal care, or submitting to government inspection. . . . There are no zoo-specific regulations to protect animals or the public, and this lax legal regime leaves the province powerless to shut down a zoo – no matter how bad conditions might be for the animals confined inside.

Bowman Zoo was also under public scrutiny recently, as its co-owner Michael Hackenberger was allegedly witnessed whipping a tiger. It’s ludicrous that a tiger is living in a country like Canada in the first place, let alone being subjected to this type of abuse.

Well, these cruel actions have not gone unnoticed, as more and more people are starting to boycott zoos. The Toronto Star even published an article this year titled “Why bother re-opening Toronto Zoo?” that details how people are increasingly refusing to support their operations, and re-opening the zoo post-strike could be a waste of taxpayers’ dollars.

That’s right: Your taxes are used to support zoos! City taxpayers subsidized Toronto Zoo last year with an astonishing $12.6 million taken from property taxes, reserve funds, and capital budget transfers.

Of course, it’s not as simple as just  shutting down these facilities. These animals can’t be let back into the wild, and many of them could not successfully be reintegrated, either. Many would need to live in sanctuaries, or zoos would need to search for some other feasible, humane alternative.

But, it’s our responsibility to solve this issue, because we’re the ones that stole them from their natural habitats in the first place!

Final Thoughts 

To me, zoos are simply an old form of entertainment. They’re becoming outdated and ultimately less popular as more and more people wake up to the reality of their operations and how embedded animal cruelty is within these facilities.

It’s clear that we’re witnessing a shift in regards to animal cruelty — I mean, just look at how many people are adopting more plant-based diets, boycotting facilities like zoos, Sea World, and Marine Land, and purchasing cruelty-free clothing lines. Even Gucci just announced they’ll be banning the sale of fur!

It’s an exciting time for animal rights, as we’re getting closer and closer to actually achieving them. Remember folks, you vote with your dollar, so if you’d like to make a difference in animals’ lives, start by no longer supporting the organizations that exploit them!