Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters

 

Claims of cruelty at zoo 

Current and former staffers allege suffering and death at facility
December 13, 2009 By Sam Cooper, The Province

Animals at a "world-class" Fort Langley zoo are neglected, abused and dying -- their carcasses tossed at times to packs of wild dogs -- according to employee allegations now under investigation by the B.C. SPCA.

The shocking charges include case files on about 50 deaths at the endangered-species facility known as the Mountain View Conservation and Breeding Centre, whose services are used by B.C.'s environment ministry.

The allegations -- which the zoo's founder denies -- are drawn from an extensive list of claims made by eight current and former employees of the centre and include:

- Management's refusal to provide veterinary care for sick or injured animals;

- A cruelly botched "mercy killing" carried out by hitting an animal repeatedly on the head with a hammer and, in other cases, the slitting of throats and use of a low-calibre rifle to shoot animals so that killings "take a very long time, [take] multiple bullets and [cause] a great deal of unnecessary animal suffering;"

- Dead animals disposed of by being fed to packs of African wild dogs at the facility.

During the SPCA investigation into these allegations, an adult and baby giraffe died at Mountain View within a day of each other last weekend.

Marcie Moriarty, general manager of cruelty investigations for the B.C. SPCA, confirmed she is leading an in-depth probe into the employee allegations. She also confirmed that the two giraffes had died, and that there are "husbandry" -- or breeding -- concerns at the centre. Moriarty said she was "surprised" by the allegations, as Mountain View has a "world-class" reputation. "This is an institution where we'd never received complaints before," she said.

The alleged breaches are generally driven by management's focus on saving money, the employees allege. If true, it's a unique state of affairs for a facility founded in 1986 by president and CEO Gordon Blankstein, a charismatic multimillionaire and international financier.

Blankstein has successfully sold many small start-up companies, but his net worth is not what it was when he and wife Yvonne purchased 50 hectares of farmland to launch Mountain View. Blankstein confirmed to The Province that he lost about $100 million when the technology stock bubble burst 10 years ago.

He has branded Mountain View as a modern ark and has gained a reputation in the media as a "new Noah" for his work as an "environmental philanthropist" who has poured up to $500,000 a year into Mountain View -- which is now a non-profit society with many donors, he says.

"We are breeding endangered animals for release back to the wild and we are involved in high-profile projects and release work around the world," Blankstein told The Province.

One of the most prestigious programs at the centre is Blankstein's award-winning work with the environment ministry on a recovery program for endangered spotted owls. "We have letters from the province all the time talking about what a great job we are doing," Blankstein said. He explained his mission to save animals in grandiose terms to Maclean's magazine in 2005: "God put them here," he said. "Do we think we have the right to take them away?"

The eight horrified animal handlers who spoke to The Province paint a picture different from Blankstein's self-portrait as a saviour of beasts. They say that under his cost-saving directives, animals are killed inhumanely, sometimes in horrific and bloody scenes.

Employees claim that bullet-riddled animal heads are lopped off and fresh carcasses thrown to the African dogs. They say exceptions are made when "Gordon wants the animal's head or hide for a taxidermy mount for his house."

On Dec. 1, The Province conducted an extensive interview with a group of seven Mountain View whistle-blowers. Also present were representatives of the Vancouver Humane Society and the national animal-protection charity Zoocheck. The group agreed to be interviewed only if their names were not published. A number of them say they fear lawsuits for speaking out against Mountain View's management.

In a separate interview, The Province spoke with former staffer Thomas Knight, a graduate of Princeton University with a master's degree in ecology and evolutionary biology. Knight was bird/hoofstock manager at the centre, but was laid off this year. The employees offered detailed accounts alleging animal neglect and cruelty and voiced public-safety concerns about the centre.

They cited case histories of about 50 animal deaths at Mountain View, dating back to 2004. Deaths included at least 10 instances of euthanasia by shooting and 25 cases where dead animals were "fed out" to African dogs. They produced photographs of logbook entries as supporting evidence. In most cases, necropsies to determine cause of death were not performed -- for cost reasons, they alleged.

The employees say Blankstein required that they seek his personal approval before a vet could be called to treat an animal, and this permission was rarely given. One woman said a manager ordered her never to call a vet again after she tried to get treatment for a falcon that appeared to be losing an eye.

"I hear story after story of people being reprimanded," said Julie Woodyer, spokeswoman for Zoocheck, after listening to more than three hours of testimony at the meeting. Woodyer said that in her 15 years of assessing zoos across Canada, she had only experienced one case with more serious allegations.

She said that if the allegations prove true, "with the animal neglect and shooting and slitting throats and beating animals to death, and not calling in vets . . . if the ministry of environment doesn't pull out every species . . . then everyone should be held liable."

Peter Fricker of the Vancouver Humane Society called the allegations "appalling." He said the ministry should launch an investigation of Mountain View immediately and make the findings public. The Environment Ministry said it was aware of the SPCA investigation but would not comment while it is under way.

Bill Peters, national director of the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, referred questions about humane euthanasia practices to Doug Whiteside, president of the Canadian Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians.

Whiteside told The Province that "euthanasia should always be performed . . . [so ] that the animal's induced death is as peaceful, humane and as quick as possible." Whiteside also said that in his experience, euthanasia should generally be performed by lethal injection.

Thomas Knight and the seven employees claim that vets are generally not used for euthanasia at Mountain View and lethal injection is avoided because if drugs are present in animal carcasses, they cannot be "fed out" to the African wild dogs at Mountain View. "For the staff, it is made clear that [the reason] is cost savings," Knight said.

In a separate interview, a senior employee said: "We don't have vets coming in because it costs a lot . . . If [a euthanasia drug] is in the carcass, it would kill the [African] dogs . . . and you can't feed [dead animals] out if you do the necropsy.

The employees alleged that animals were euthanized with a .22 gauge rifle by Mountain View director and facilities manager Vince Beier, even though "he has been told by infuriated staff repeatedly to use a stronger gun."

They say one case occurred on the night of Oct. 17, 2008, when Knight says he was asked to come with Beier to the pen that held a healthy addax -- a screwhorn antelope -- named Aras. Aras was a "runt" and "was cute as hell," one current employee said in a separate interview. "He was spunky -- he'd get his butt kicked [by other animals] but find the courage to fight back."

Aras was shot six times in the head with a .22 because management decided he was "excess cost," Knight alleged. "It was running around after we shot it," Knight said. "[Beier] ran out of bullets and didn't know what to do . . . I told him, 'You'd better finish it. Go and get a real goddamn gun.'"

Beier said he could not use the larger gun stored on property because "the neighbours will hear it and they might wonder what is happening," Knight said. Knight said Beier then hit Aras in the head about 10 times with a claw hammer, but "that didn't finish it."

"It was bleeding. It was screaming," Knight said. "[So] he slit its throat -- and did a really bad job of it." Aras bled to death after about 30 minutes, Knight says, while Beier said "just wait, it will die eventually."

Knight alleges that Gordon Blankstein knows the details about the allegedly botched euthanasia of Aras and the methods generally used in other cases by Beier, but has not ordered a change in euthanasia protocol.

Two employees said that in another case five years ago, they witnessed an addax named Guido euthanized by Beier with about six shots from a .22 rifle.

In a separate case on April 10, 2008, a Cuvier's gazelle named Coco was found injured and slated for euthanization, they said. Beier decided to kill the gazelle by slitting its throat with a box cutter, employees allege. One worker said that he and Beier got in a shouting match and that he begged Beier, without success, to use a gun. "I had to hold [the gazelle] in my arms while it was bleeding" for about five minutes, the employee said.

The employee went on to say that he was even more traumatized by the case of a gerenuk -- a long-necked antelope -- named Ferdinand. He said that Ferdinand was observed limping on June 10, 2005. Staff pleaded for a vet, to no avail. Ferdinand's leg eventually fell off and the animal died in December of 2005.

"It took six months until the tissue rotted away until only a tendon was holding the leg on," the employee said. "If it would have been cast, he would have been alive today. It scarred me pretty bad." Beier could not be reached for comment.

Blankstein responded specifically to Knight's version of the euthanization of Aras in October in 2008 by saying: "I don't believe it's factual." He said that sometimes at the centre, a euthanasia drug is prescribed by vets and used by staff to put animals down. Other times, he said, "sick and injured" animals are "euthanized properly" and fed directly to the African dogs. But Blankstein denied that a .22 rifle is used by Beier in order to conceal shootings from neighbours.

"No, not .22 gauge. We have rifles," he said. "The SPCA has looked at that . . . They are euthanized properly." SPCA officials declined to comment on specifics of the allegations.

Explaining the rationale for feeding out dead animals, Blankstein said: "If [the African dogs] can't gorge, they can't be put back in the wild. We've been [feeding out carcasses] for 25 years and we don't have a problem with it." Blankstein acknowledged that "not every animal [that dies at Mountain View] is necropsied.

Whiteside, president of the Canadian Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians, said "there are no current rules regarding the feeding of killed ungulates to carnivores in a zoo situation."

Kip Parker, a former zookeeper at the Metro Toronto Zoo, who wrote the zoo's award-winning manual for best practices, said there are legal and ethical concerns with feeding out animals, but it could be appropriate in limited circumstances. "In any responsible zoo, when an animal dies or is euthanized, a necropsy should be performed to determine cause of death," Parker said.

Several of the current and former staff members said they have suffered stress and depression resulting from witnessing alleged animal neglect at Mountain View. "It's not uncommon for staff members to be medicated for depression," said one long-time ex-employee. "You start to see that [animals] will die a horrible, painful death."

Thomas Knight and a current employee both say that in one recent case, Indian rhinoceros Ivan broke his horn off while bumping his head inside his pen. "Gordon refused to call in a veterinarian, and instead told us to cauterize the wound," the employees alleged. "Doing so would have damaged the tissue and probably prevented proper regrowth of the horn."

Knight and several employees alleged that Ivan poses the most severe public-safety risk at Mountain View, because the powerful beast is only restrained by deer fencing and an electrical wire that's damaged. They say Blankstein has been told about the wire but refuses to fix it. "[The rhino] will rampage through Fort Langley," Knight feared.

Blankstein categorically denied all allegations -- including those of animal neglect and cruelty at Mountain View, and that they are driven by any move to save money. He stressed that the centre is well-run and yearly budgets are stable. "Vets are brought in as needed [and] always have been," he said.

Blankstein reasoned that Knight and other former employees are disgruntled and trying to "smear" Mountain View with skewed evidence. "This stuff is just not factual," Blankstein said. "There probably will be a court case and these individuals had better be prepared."

Mountain View's animal population does experience a number of deaths and injuries, Blankstein acknowledged, but he stressed that endangered species have unique underlying health issues, and Mountain View's practices are necessarily different from standard zoos' because animals are conditioned to return to the wild.

"A lot of these animals are highly inbred because the populations are so small," he said. "They are susceptible to [disease and sickness] and they are harder to take care of [and] keep alive."

Finally, Blankstein countered the employees' version of Ivan's injury. He said the bloody photo they provided The Province and other authorities as proof of neglect should not be taken out of context. "[At Mountain View], animals are in large enclosures and they get to live in terrain where they can hurt themselves, [so] when the rhino bangs its horn on a tree and it breaks off, [these] things occur," he said. "They get to be animals. They don't get to be lab rats."

Blankstein said he does not believe the two recent giraffe deaths were caused by hypothermia, and said that Mountain View is cooperating with the B.C. SPCA to determine the cause of death.

Mountain View cruelty allegations require government inquiry

December 16, 2009 Peter Fricker Vancouver Sun Community of Interest

The allegations of animal cruelty at the Mountain View Conservation and Breeding Centre in Langley have shocked the public.  The alleged incidents described by eight current and former Mountain View staff are truly horrifying and demand a full investigation by the provincial Ministry of the Environment (MOE), which regulates zoos in B.C.

The management at Mountain View has denied the allegations and suggested they are merely part of a "smear" by a few disgruntled employees. Only a full official investigation can establish all the facts, but suspicions about the motives of the staff are unfair and misplaced.

I sat in a room with seven of the Mountain View staff, along with other representatives of the Vancouver Humane Society, Zoocheck Canada and the media, and listened to three hours of detailed allegations concerning Mountain View's operations.  These people were qualified, experienced animal care professionals, many with degrees in conservation or related disciplines.  They were articulate but clearly distraught about what they were revealing - some cried when they related their stories, which were backed by photographs and written records.  They were also extremely fearful about lawsuits they cannot afford to fight, losing their jobs or having their future careers in wildlife conservation ruined.  Their fear of Mountain View's management was palpable. 

There have been suggestions in the media that because some of the staff have joined a union, the allegations are just part of some labour dispute.  This is a red herring, as the staff's complaints having nothing to do with their pay and conditions - they are about animal welfare.  The staff joined a union in hopes of affording themselves a measure of protection once their allegations became public.

It should not be forgotten that one of the former staff, Thomas Knight, has gone on the record with his allegations, which corroborate accounts given by other staff members.  Further corroboration is given in today's Province, by a former manager at Mountain View.  Suggestions that all the allegations are all anonymous are simply wrong.  And what about the two that giraffes died three weeks ago during cold weather? That is a fact that cannot be denied and those deaths should merit an MOE investigation regardless of all the allegations.

It has also been suggested that because Mountain View has had a previously good reputation, the allegations cannot possibly be true. I think Tiger Woods' fans might advise that this is not always a valid defence. 

The best way to get to the truth about what has been happening at Mountain View is a full-fledged investigation by the MOE. The BC SPCA's investigation into the facility, already underway, may be limited to very recent incidents and confined to the society's powers under the Criminal Code and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.  For example, it is not in the BC SPCA's remit to investigate the staff allegations concerning public safety at the facility.

The MoE is responsible for regulating zoos in B.C. It has worked in partnership with Mountain View on several projects, most notably the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Program. It is currently accepting permit applications from captive animal facilities, including Mountain View. Only the MOE can determine whether Mountain View is fit to receive a permit.

Despite the clear responsibility the MOE holds for regulating zoos it has yet to establish standards for zoos in B.C.  Instead it plans to use Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) standards, which Mountain View already meets. (It has been an accredited member of CAZA since 2006, following its one and only CAZA inspection.)  Will the MOE consider giving Mountain View a permit without first determining whether there is any substance to the allegations against the facility?

December 17, 2009  Thirteen more former employees have come forward  to corroborate information first brought forward by eight people last week. Carmina Gooch has written to the BC government and received a reply from the Ministry of Environment on January 18, 2010. 

In part: On behalf of the Honourable Barry Penner, Minister of Environment, thank you for your email of December 17, 2009, regarding Mountain View Conservation and Breeding Centre facilities in Fort Langley, British Columbia (BC). 

In BC, the Ministry of Environment is responsible for permitting and monitoring captive wildlife as defined under the BC Wildlife Act.  The wildlife species at Mountain View Conservation and Breeding Centre, which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Environment, include the Spotted Owl, Vancouver Island Marmot and Oregon Spotted Frog.  As such, the Ministry has been providing oversight and ongoing supervision of the breeding programs associated with these species at risk.  A recent visit to the site by wildlife management staff indicated that a high standard of care and husbandry practices associated with these provincially regulated breeding programs continues to be maintained. 

The welfare of non-wildlife or exotic animals in captivity is governed by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which is administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands.  This Act enables the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to monitor and address issues involving the care and welfare of exotic animals.

Note: There has been no response from the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands.

Mountain View centre must be accountable for welfare of captive animals

January 22, 2010 By Peter Fricker, VHS for the Georgia Straight 

The deaths of two giraffes at the Mountain View Conservation and Breeding Centre in Langley raise a simple question: Why?

According to necropsy results, one of the two died of peracute mortality syndrome, which has been associated with captive giraffes being kept in cooler climates instead of their natural tropical climate. Basically, the giraffes die when their diet doesn’t ensure they have enough fat to withstand cold temperatures. (The necropsy results for the second giraffe—a three-month old baby—have not been made public.)

The syndrome is not new, having been researched since 1978. (One literature review even cites cases going as far back as 1854.) A 2005 study makes specific recommendations on how to prevent PMS: “to reduce the risk of serous fat atrophy in captive giraffe, the provision of adequate levels of energy in the diet would appear to be the most effective preventative step...Persistent exposure to temperatures below 20°C should be avoided unless the energy intake can be substantially increased.”

Yet Mountain View was keeping its giraffes in an unheated barn during freezing temperatures last December. What’s more, according to media reports, the consultant veterinarian for the centre said the giraffes were not getting enough energy in their diet and were therefore not retaining enough fat. His reported prescription for keeping captive giraffes alive was simple: “You need a diet that is as good as possible, good ventilation, insulation and warm housing. That’s all you need.”

But a good enough diet and warm housing were precisely what Mountain View failed to provide. The centre has been described as “world class” and “superb” by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, yet it apparently was unaware of the well-studied problem of captive giraffe mortality.

Veterinary science aside, wouldn’t it be common sense to provide heat to tropical animals during sub-zero temperatures? Other captive animal facilities seem to think so; a quick Google search found that zoos in Seattle, Dublin, and Bristol (all with climates similar to Vancouver’s) provide heated barns for their giraffes. Even the Greater Vancouver Zoo, which is no stranger to criticism about its animal care, has a heated giraffe barn.

Lack of heat for animals is among the allegations made in December by a group of current and former Mountain View staff. In a document provided to the Vancouver Humane Society and Zoocheck Canada just days before the giraffes died, they stated: “Heat is a serious issue at Mountain View...many of the tropical species get no heat at all during the winter months (e.g. zebras, giraffe, addax, sable antelope) and the rest get far less heat than they need.”

Their criticism was subsequently echoed by Douglas Richardson, a former manager who worked at the centre in 2003-04, who told one newspaper, “One of the main animal-welfare problems I tried to deal with was the lack of heating for the giraffes.” He was terminated in 2004.

Mountain View’s response to media questions about the giraffe deaths has been complete denial of responsibility. “All I know is we’ve had giraffes for 10 years and there has never [before] been an issue,” said spokesperson Malcolm Weatherstone to one reporter. Only after the giraffes died, and under orders from the B.C. SPCA, did the centre install heating for its remaining giraffes.

The SPCA’s investigation into other allegations made by the staff group is still underway, and it remains to be seen if any charges will be laid. But one thing is clear: in December, an animal designed by nature to live under the African sun died needlessly in a freezing cold barn in Canada.

The technical question of why this happened has been answered by the necropsy. But the moral question of why the giraffes died has not. The giraffes at Mountain View are not being bred for return to the wild. They are not part of any accredited species survival plan. (They are not endangered.) So why are they there? Presumably, they provide some pleasure for those who take the guided tours Mountain View makes available to the public. Or do they just satisfy a need, common to pre-adolescent boys and some zookeepers, to just collect living things?

Whatever the reason, people and institutions who keep exotic animals should be held accountable for their welfare. The B.C. SPCA has limited powers and cannot do this alone. The B.C. Ministry of the Environment, which regulates zoos in the province, has been virtually silent on the controversy. The ministry must decide whether to grant Mountain View an operating permit before April 1 this year. Will it do so while this cloud hangs over the centre? It should conduct a full investigation of the centre to determine if it is fit to operate.

Only the ministry can set and enforce standards that could ensure tragedies like the giraffe deaths will not occur again. Otherwise the welfare of zoo animals in B.C. will depend on the courage of whistle-blowers like the Mountain View staff. As even they would agree, that’s just not good enough.

Mountain View giraffe's fate in vet's hands today

February 2, 2010  By John Bermingham, The Province

Jerome the friendly giant will be in a fight for his life tomorrow at a controversial Fort Langley zoo. The young male giraffe, which lives at the Mountain View Conservation Centre, has overgrown hoofs and may have to be euthanized if the job of shearing them doesn't work.

The veterinarian who'll decide, Dr. Bruce Burton, said he'll do everything he can to keep Jerome alive. "He's probably one of the nicest giraffes you'll meet," Burton told The Province yesterday from his Abbotsford practice. "If we do not think we can help him, unfortunately, we are probably going to have to euthanize him."

Two giraffes died at the facility in December, and the facility is under SPCA investigation for animal cruelty and neglect.

Jerome, who stands five to six metres high and weighs over 2,000 pounds, will be put under anesthetic in a stall padded with hay. Burton said it's vital his neck stay elevated, to avoid bursting blood vessels. "If [the neck] comes down, it can be fatal," he said. "They just don't tolerate anesthetics very well."

The SPCA ordered the procedure done this week because Jerome has difficulty walking and looks in pain. "I have some serious concerns," said SPCA animal protection officer Eileen Drever. "The investigation is ongoing."

Mountain View spokesman Malcolm Weatherston insisted that giraffes haven't been neglected. "It's just a very unfortunate series of coincidences," he said. If Jerome dies, it would halve the Masai giraffe population to three, in as many months.

Todd Streu, who speaks for 30 current and former workers at Mountain View, blamed Jerome's plight on neglect. The zoo is not providing heat, diet or veterinary care, he said. Streu said Jerome's hoofs should have been shorn months ago.

Peter Fricker of the Vancouver Humane Society said the B.C. government is ignoring the issue -- "just washing its hands." But B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner said his ministry is keeping a close eye on the situation at Mountain View.

February 5, 2010  Sadly, Jerome died, while under sedation for surgery.  This prompted an outcry from the public, with many people, like Carmina Gooch, choosing to contact the media, reporters, the SPCA, and the provincial government.  Legislation to protect our animals under the PCA Act isn’t strong enough and neither is federal legislation.  Animals are still considered property in Canada, despite public urging of Bill C-229 to be passed into law.  Convictions under the Criminal Code of Canada are virtually impossible, as “intent” has to be proven. 

Despite the first major changes to BC’s Wildlife Act in 25 years with the passage of Bill 29 in 2009, the Controlled Alien Species Regulation, accredited zoos, research and educational institutions can continue to acquire, breed and possess the listed species, but they will be required to apply for, and be granted, a permit for each animal in their possession beginning Nov. 1, 2009.  The MoE must decide before April 1st, 2010, whether to grant Mountain View an operating permit.  Individuals who are in possession of a listed animal that was in B.C. before March 16, 2009 may be able to keep the animal until its death if they comply with a number of requirements and restrictions.  They must not breed or release the animals in question.
There are roadside zoos and private collectors in BC that have exotics.   Enforcement may prove to be a problem, particularly with individuals living in remote areas or those who have large properties.

BC SPCA recommends charges against conservation centre after deaths of three giraffes

February 9, 2010 Neal Hall - Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER — The B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is recommending charges of animal cruelty be laid against Mountain View Conservation Centre after a six-week investigation into the care of giraffes at the Fort Langley facility.

Three giraffes have died at the facility, including an adult male named Jerome, who died on Feb. 5 after being sedated for a hoof-trimming procedure.

Marcie Moriarty, head of the BC SPCA’s Cruelty Investigations Department, said the SPCA is waiting for necropsy results and will submit its recommendation to Crown counsel within the next few weeks, as soon as all necropsy and toxicology reports are available.

The BC SPCA first responded to a complaint about Mountain View Conservation Centre on Nov. 23, 2009 and immediately issued an order to trim Jerome’s hooves. “This procedure would normally require a squeeze — a standard piece of equipment that the centre should have had available, but did not,” Moriarty said in a news release.

“Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act we are required to give animal owners a ‘reasonable time’ to comply with an order. In this case we gave Mountain View four weeks to comply with the order to trim Jerome’s hooves.” The SPCA made a number of follow-up visits to Mountain View, resulting in further orders being issued in December and January regarding the giraffes and other species.

“Two giraffes died during a December cold snap and Jerome’s condition appeared to be deteriorating, resulting in the SPCA issuing yet another order to Mountain View," Moriarty said. “Mountain View’s failure to ensure that they were adequately equipped to look after animals in their care resulted in this tragedy. This is just unacceptable.”

She said that because the case involved exotic wild animals, the SPCA had no choice but to leave the animals at Mountain View during the investigation. “This is a perfect example of why the BC SPCA fought so hard last year to see new, stricter regulations passed in B.C. regarding the trafficking and keeping of exotic animals,” Moriarty said.

“When a facility like Mountain View acquires giraffes and other exotic species, they have a legal and moral responsibility to provide proper care, equipment and facilities. This investigation was extremely frustrating for the SPCA because in other animal-cruelty cases we can step in and seize an animal if orders are not followed, but with an exotic animal we don’t have that capacity."

The SPCA will be forwarding a recommendation for charges against the facility in the next few weeks.

March 4, 2010 update from The Province: After winning its war this week to obtain a report on a giraffe death at the Mountain View Conservation Centre, the B.C. SPCA is now filing criminal animal-cruelty charges against the zoo.

Marcie Moriarty, head of the B.C. SPCA’s cruelty-investigations department, said charges will be filed under both the Criminal Code and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Shawn Eccles, B.C. SPCA’s chief animal-protection officer, said the maximum penalty for an animal-cruelty charge under the Criminal Code is a five-year prison term or a $10,000 fine. Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, the maximum is six months in prison and a $10,000 fine.

In a March 5 CBC radio interview, VHS's Peter Fricker said that the two options for Jerome was the risky surgery or euthanasia and that the MoE appears to have no interest in the standards or welfare of the exotic animals at Mountain View.  There is no public body to oversee facilities like Mountain View, and now the government plans to use the national not-for-profit Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) standards.  CAZA only checks facilities once every five years.

March 17, 2010  BC SPCA’s Marcie Moriarty said she hopes the charges will be accepted by the Crown within the next few weeks.

April 22, 2010 Mountain View's directors have decided to move its exotic animals off the property during the spring and summer of 2010 and will focus instead on endangered native species instead.  Spokesperson Malcolm Weatherston did not provide further details to reporters.  The BC SPCA says it has no jurisdiction over the matter but hopes they will be sent to adequate facilities.  Crown has yet to decide on whether to lay charges.

June 15, 2010 No animal cruelty charges laid in death of giraffe at conservation centre. What a disappointment. The Mountain View investigation focused primarily on Jerome the giraffe, whose hooves were so excessively overgrown that the animal had to rest on his knees at times because it was too painful for him to stand. Crown counsel stated it is satisfied there is sufficient evidence to support the argument that Mountain View took reasonable steps to address the neglect after BC SPCA issues were ordered. This is the second time that Crown counsel has decided against proceeding with animal cruelty recommendations against a Lower Mainland zoo. In 2005 Crown laid charges of animal cruelty in the case of Hazina, a baby hippopotamus kept in a shed at the Greater Vancouver Zoo, but later stayed the charges after the zoo eventually complied with BC SPCA orders to build a proper facility for Hazina.

Why is it that in two cases charges haven’t stuck? Justice has been denied. Willful intent of neglect or abuse must be proven under the Criminal Code of Canada (virtually impossible) but not under the PCA Act. The BC government’s reply to Carmina Gooch’s recent concerns on this issue:  

Thank you for your March 30, 2010 e-mail regarding the federal animal cruelty laws and the penalties in British Columbia for persons convicted of animal cruelty.

It is my understanding that there is currently a bill before parliament to address changes in animal cruelty legislation at a national level.  This is a private members bill (C-229) and if passed it would move animal cruelty offences out the property area and into criminal code offences.

The maximum penalties under the British Columbia Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act are similar to those in other western Canadian provinces.  The provincial government will be initiating a review of current Animal Welfare legislation to ascertain whether new legislation to focus on animal care and protection is required in British Columbia.

You are correct in stating that authorized agents of the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BCSPCA) under the Police Act (Act) may only enter private property under the authority of a warrant to relieve an animal they believe, on reasonable grounds, to be in distress.  However, in extreme circumstances there are allowances in the Act to allow them entrance to almost any area, with the exception of a private dwelling, without a warrant.  Furthermore, there are clear allowances to facilitate speedy access to warrants when required.  These allow for the warrants to be issued based on the submission of information under oath by telephone or other means of communication.

Note: While a private member’s bill is before parliament, it has yet to make it to the floor of the House of Commons. In March of this year private member’s bill No. 62 was being addressed. Mark Holland’s is No. 141. There were some changes, such as stiffer penalties for more serious offences of animal cruelty, with the passage of Bill S-203 on April 9, 2008. Not nearly enough bite, though. 

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