Wednesday, February 1, 2012

An End to a Storybook Chapter

Soon there will be no more wild animals at Storybook Gardens, a children’s amusement park in London, Ontario. Once the last four harbour seals, 2 beaver, 2 lynx, 1 otter and several birds of prey are relocated to more appropriate accommodation in other facilities, a chapter in Storybook’s history will come to an end.

The relocation of the remaining Storybook Gardens animals is a cooperative initiative of Zoocheck and the City of London, with Zoocheck helping to identify suitable recipient facilities and covering the costs of transport.

There have been a mulitude of animals at Storybook Gardens over the years. I remember seeing bears, crocodiles, monkeys and a range of other animal species in the park. Apparently, there was even a baby elephant for a time.

But Storybook Gardens was probably most famous for Slippery the sea lion. Slippery, wild caught in California, was shipped to the park in 1958. Just one day into his captivity he escaped into the Thames River. He swan downriver and out into Lake St. Clair, then down the Detroit River and out into Lake Erie. Slippery’s escape and subsequent sightings created a media frenzy and generated interest around the world.

Eventually Slippery was captured near Sandusky, Ohio and sent to the Toledo Zoo. Negotiations led to Slippery being sent back to Canada. 50,000 people atttended a special Welcome Back Slippery parade and 5,000 more crowded around the entrance to Storybook Gardens. Slippery survived for approximately 10 years at the park.

The entire Slippery saga has been told and retold as a quirky, happy story, but the reality is that it wasn’t a happy story for Slippery at all. Today, we know better.

Once the last of Storybook’s wild animals are relocated, the park can be reinvented into something more vibrant and modern. That’s great news for the animals, for Storybook Gardens and for the City of London.

Thank you to everyone who voiced their opinion, to the London-based Friends of Captive Animals who helped generate awareness and to the city officials who took action to do what was best for the animals.

Rob Laidlaw
Zoocheck Canada

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