While Springwater’s animal display may have been considered acceptable years ago, that is not the case today. The facility is out of date, inadequate and does not provide many of the animals with an acceptable level of welfare.
The closure of Springwater’s antiquated wildlife zoo fits in with evolving public concerns and sensibilities about animals. In recent years, a series of professional polls have shown that 82% of Ontario citizens support better regulation of wildlife in captivity facilities and improved standards of care. A review of some of the ongoing wildlife captivity controversies in the province is clear evidence that public attitudes are rapidly changing.
Some Springwater visitors seem to have developed a sentimental attachment to the animal display and overlook or fail to recognize its deficiencies. Many have erroneously referred to it as an animal sanctuary. Unfortunately, the display does not satisfy the basic criteria that define true sanctuaries, including restricted public access. Even though it is in a park, the wildlife compound is a zoo.
Advocates of a new Springwater governance model have referred to the wildlife zoo as an attraction and part of the future “revenue stream.” However, to upgrade the facility to an acceptable standard that fully satisfies the animals’ needs would require a substantial influx of funds and result in escalated, ongoing operational costs for whomever is in charge. It’s highly unlikely the zoo could ever generate more than token revenue for the Park and it’s doubtful the capital costs of bringing the facility up to standard could ever be recouped. The reality is that many zoos and zoo-type displays require annual subsidies to survive and ongoing government funding for capital/infrastructure improvements.
As well, the Springwater animals are all common species in Ontario and well represented in zoological facilities throughout the province, including some in the region. There is nothing unique about the Park’s zoo that would make it an attraction and draw people through the gate. In fact, considering current public sentiment, it may keep them away.
While we question the need to increase attendance beyond that required for the simple maintenance of visitor amenities, there are many ways to increase attendance if that is a goal. They include, but are not limited to, interpretive pavilions focused on local nature and history, a native wildlife butterfly garden, a bird feeder trail, a series of self-guided walks focusing on botany, ecology, local history and other subjects, organized insect safaris for kids, nature festivals and other special events, to name just a few ideas. The suggestion that the Park needs a bunch of caged animals to attract people ignores the fact that so much more could be offered.
As a wildlife protection organization, our interest has been and will continue to be the welfare of the Springwater animals. That’s why we are encouraging the MNR to move forward with the closure of the Park’s wildlife zoo and the dispersal of the animals to more appropriate accommodation elsewhere. It shouldn’t be a difficult process. We hope that others who are also concerned about wildlife will contact David Orazietti, Minister of Natural Resources, and urge him to move forward with relocation of the animals. The Minister's email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The closure of Springwater's wildlife zoo will be applauded by Ontarians across the province and by wildlife advocates everywhere. But the best reason for moving ahead is that it’s the right thing to do for the animals and the right time to do it.