Shadow the grizzly eats an apple inside her enclosure at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. (Black Press file photo)

B.C. zoo vows change after report of animals suffering ‘boredom and frustration’

Manager promises upgrades, including a safari park and better accommodation for big cats

Improvements are in the works for the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove that will focus on B.C and Canadian wildlife, as well as upgrading facilities for more exotic animals.

That’s according to new zoo general manager Serge Lussier, following a report released Monday (Dec. 30) that said many animals at the zoo were living in “barren, under-sized cages and enclosures that restrict them from engaging in natural behaviours.”

In his response Tuesday (Dec. 31), Lussier told Black Press the zoo has a “comprehensive enrichment program” to promote a “healthy psychology and behavioural ecology.”

“Animal’s lives are enriched on a daily basis through novel items and behavioural conditioning,” Lussier said.

The report by the Vancouver Humane Society was prepared by Zoocheck, a Canadian-based international wildlife protection charity, based on “issues identified during three separate visits.”

It called on the zoo to improve conditions for its animals and to move away from “keeping animals unsuited to B.C.’s climate.”

Lussier said planned improvements to the zoo over the next few years will include a conservation and education centre in 2020, the transformation of half the site into a safari park devoted to B.C. and Canadian wildlife in 2021, a “large feline complex” in 2022, and an African Savannah project in 2023 with an elevated walkway and observatory.

All the changes will help position it as “the zoo of the future,” Lussier predicted.

“The potential for this institution is immense,” Lussier added.

Lussier noted the zoo has twice won the Peter Karsten In-situ conservation award, in 2015, for workng on recovering the endangered western painted turtle and again in 2019 for restoration work completed on the Salmon River’s riparian habitat.

“Our vision remains to be a leader in the conservation efforts of animals and protection of the habitat they live in and will continue to inspire appreciation of our ecosystems and support conservation efforts by engaging our guests and the community,” Lussier said.

In the report, Zoocheck noted there have been improvements since the charity began issuing reports on the Greater Vancouver Zoo beginning in 1997. The zoo seems to have made a number of “significant, very positive, changes” but adding “some longstanding issues remain problematic and should be addressed.”

“They include, but are not limited to, lack of space for certain species, lack of appropriate environmental conditions, lack of environmental and behavioural enrichment, lack of shelter and privacy areas, lack of proper social contexts, excess ground water and water logging of enclosure substrates.”

Vancouver Humane Society spokesperson Peter Fricker said the zoo doesn’t provide animals with a stimulating environment that allows natural activities such as climbing, foraging or digging.

“The main issue is a lack of enrichment,” Fricker said.

Given the amount of space available on the 120-acre site, the zoo should build larger enclosures with more for animals to do, “to alleviate boredom and frustration,” he said.

READ MORE: Greater Vancouver Zoo animals suffer ‘boredom and frustration’ Humane Society says

It is the largest facility of its kind in B.C. and houses more than 140 wild and exotic animals including lions, a tiger, cheetah, giraffe and hippos.

It also contributes to conservation efforts on various fronts including work to build back the population of the spotted frog and the Western painted turtle.

READ ALSO: Zoo awarded for its restoration of the Salmon River

Over the years, the zoo has faced controversy over the untimely death of some giraffes and the treatment of one of its hippos.

An outdoor enclosure was built for the hippo, including a large pond, after the criticism.

There have been protests by animal rights activists at the zoo from time to time.



dan.ferguson@langleyadvancetimes.com

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