Thursday, December 17, 2009

How Indpendent will Calgary's Independent Review Actually Be?

After a wake of high profile animal deaths and incidents stretching back several years, the Calgary Zoo has finally announced an independent external review of their facility. While this is something Zoocheck and other animal welfare groups have called for, one has to wonder how independent the independent review will be.

In a videotaped statement on the zoo’s website CEO Clement Lanthier said he would be contacting both the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) and the US-based Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) this week to ask them to put together a team of expert reviewers to examine the Calgary Zoo’s practices and procedures. On the surface, this may sound like a reasonable course of action. After all, the two organizations are the accrediting bodies for their member institutions in both countries.

Here’s the problem. The Calgary Zoo is already accredited by both organizations. That the means the zoo has already met or exceeded their accreditation standards which they say are among the toughest anywhere. If they’re already accredited by both organizations and the animal deaths and incidents continue, why go back to those same organizations for another review. Wouldn’t it make more sense to look elsewhere for new expertise?

My faith in the pending independent external review is also undermined by the comments of CAZA national director Bill Peters. In a December 12th Globe and Mail article Mr. Peters said, take out break here….“Yes, there has been a series of unfortunate incidents and they've been looked at and reports have been done in the various occurrences, but is there a pattern? No, I don't think there's a pattern there.”

Given the number of animal deaths and incidents, I find it remarkable that anyone would think there wasn’t a pattern. It seems to me that because they all occurred at the same facility within a fairly compressed timeframe that alone establishes a pattern.

In my view, the deaths of four gorillas in rapid succession is a pattern. Or the presumably preventable deaths of stingrays because of improper oxygen levels, a markhor hanging itself on a rope and the capybara crushed to death in a hydraulic door. If they don’t represent a pattern, I don’t know what does.

Details of the independent expert review are pending. The people involved and the terms of reference are not known. At this point there is one thing I do know. To maintain even a smidgen of credibility the review team must draw extensively from other disciplines, including the animal welfare field. It can’t just be zoo managers reviewing zoo managers.

A few years ago, the National Zoo in Washington D.C. was subject to a review after a string of animal deaths and other missteps were reported in the media. That review involved multiple agencies and individuals, including experts from outside the zoo world.

Will the review be a serious examination or just a public relations exercise? I guess time will tell.

Rob Laidlaw
Executive Director
Zoocheck Canada

1 comment:

  1. Sadly, I think we can expect very little credibility and serious examination if this is the route being taken, particularly where CAZA is involved. I agree that there is a pattern in the deaths that have occurred (how can so many deaths occur around/involving the physical components of the zoo and not be considered a pattern?).

    I believe that taking these seriously begins with the first step of pursuing external investigation - if they aren't already going that route, it's already off to a bad start. If the public demands external investigations of government bodies and corporations when something is amiss, then I think we should expect the same from zoos that keep living beings within their facilities.