Having grown up in rural Alberta, I have been witness to numerous attempts by eccentric country-folk in starting up “zoos.” This strange phenomenon was often unsettling and left me with uncomfortable emotions toward the unnecessary containment of non-livestock animals. However, the cages and pens of GuZoo Zoo — located out on the prairies just a few kilometres north of Three Hills, or an hour and a half from the steel cages and concrete pens of downtown Calgary — are an exception. GuZoo has been successfully licensed since 1990, which is often not the case, and is humane, too. Undoubtedly, this claim may come as a shock, as the GuZoo Zoo and Animal Sanctuary has received an immense amount of media attention this past week regarding supposed neglect and cruelty to animals. It is my contention that the accusations of cruelty and neglect are both uninformed and hypocritical. I do not wish to suggest that I, or anyone, should ever take animal rights lightly– the issue is of utmost moral concern and deserves due consideration. It may even be the case that GuZoo Zoo does indeed sit in violation of Alberta’s zoo standards, in which case their license should be revoked.
The primary criticism regarding GuZoo is that the animals have negligent and appalling living conditions, as is supposedly seen in the photos — posted on Facebook by self-proclaimed animal lover, photographer and professional photo-manipulation artist, Nic Burgess — that started the media firestorm. As well, in 2007 Zoocheck Canada, a private lobby group, claimed that GuZoo had violated over 100 standards including “psychological endangerment” to contained animals, a “flat and featureless” bear pen and “rusty old farm equipment,” despite being a country farm. Having both personally visited the zoo on previous occasions (and several other zoos just like it) and seeing the photos, I find the claims uninformed. Those who seem to think that the animals’ living spaces are terrible base their concerns on misdirected assumptions. That is, they wrongly wish for animals to be given human desires and not the desires of animals themselves. The rustic look of the GuZoo zoo, although not very appealing aesthetically, has spaces that are, according to Alberta zoo standards, both large enough and providing of appropriate shelter and other needs. Life on a farm for both animal and farmer will inevitably, but wrongly, be considered unsanitary by people who cannot see beyond their cul-de-sac.
Any purported injustices committed by the GuZoo Zoo pale in comparison to injustices that occur much closer to home — especially in light of the 24,000 people signing an online petition to eradicate the zoo and a deluge of calls to the Calgary Humane Society, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and to GuZoo itself, prompted largely by Burgess’s photos online. Calgary is home to its own massive and troublesome zoo (consider practices like the ‘zoo lights’ and the mass death of stingrays). One of the world’s largest rodeos, the Calgary Stampede, occurs annually (21 horses have died between 1995 and 2005). It is on these grounds that I find the claims against GuZoo Zoo to be hypocritical.
GuZoo Zoo’s license is up for renewal with Alberta Fish and Wildlife on April 1 and the SPCA is investigating independently. It is possible that certain standards have been violated. Also, I am more than willing to consider the position that both the GuZoo Zoo and some of the ill-practices of Calgarians and their city are equally detestable and should thus be uniformly condemned. Giving such widespread and significant moral consideration to animals throughout Alberta is a far more appropriate position than the massive and premature outcry that has erupted towards a small prairie zoo. But a line of equal concern is not the one being delivered. Instead, what we find are arguments against GuZoo Zoo that are uninformed and hypocritical– rashly formed opinions about a way of life that is staggeringly foreign from that of your average city dweller.