Written by: Heather Clemenceau
It’s no secret that the Bowmanville Zoo is on the receiving end of more negative publicity after Zoo Director Michael Hackenberger muttered some expletives at his mini-horse riding baboon Austin after the primate didn’t follow his “script” during a live television show. Hackenberger later apologized for his utterances after the TV show expressed its displeasure with his lack of impulse control towards his animals.
But the Alberta branch of Fish and Wildlife Enforcement have inadvertently put the Bowmanville Zoo in the spotlight again when they seized a tame Burchell’s Zebra named “Zorro” from a farm in Alberta, where he is a prohibited animal, and gave him to the Zoo while they were in town supplying animals for “Whoop-Up Days” in Alberta. Not only did Fish and Wildlife confound the issue with Zorro’s previous owners in a long chain of custody disagreement, they apparently did not test him for Equine Infectious Anemia before giving him to the zoo.
Timeline of Events
- June 2012 – Zorro imported to Canada
- February 2015 – Zorro sold to Newmarket, Ontario equine rescue/breeder who did not take possession of him immediately. He then spent some months at a different facility in Ontario
- July 2015 – Zorro flipped to new Alberta owner by the rescue
- August 2015 – Zorro seized by Fish and Wildlife Enforcement as a prohibited animal
- August 2015 – An offer was made by Fish and Wildlife Enforcement to return Zorro to his last owner in Ontario, who refused to accept him. He was then offered back to the owners of the farm who imported him, who agreed to take him. After arrangements were made, F&WE wrote back that they would be giving him to the Bowmanville Zoo, as “this facility is CAZA accredited and we feel confident that they have the ability to provide the care for this animal.”
- August 2015 – The zebra was picked-up August 23rd
At one time earlier in the email chain Fish and Wildlife Enforcement proposed that Zorro be relocated to the Calgary Zoo, but something changed their minds. Did the decision have anything to do
with the fact that the Bowmanville Zoo was touring in Alberta at the time and had available space in their trailer?
Ignoring all the issues with private ownership of exotic animals, the most concerning to me is the fact that Fish and Wildlife Enforcement (and probably other branches of the Alberta government) did not have concerns about shipping an equid to Ontario without testing for Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA), a disease which while rare, is devastating to horse owners when it does invade their barns, since equids must be permanently quarantined in a building with vigilant insect control (the vectors that spread the disease are flies and other insects that bite an infected horse before transferring it to another) or humanely euthanized. Also commonly called “swamp fever,” EIA is caused by a retrovirus, similar to the human HIV. There is currently no vaccine against the virus, and once infected an equine carries the virus for the rest of its life. Episodes of more severe signs can occur even years after the initial infection, and during these episodes an infected animal poses the greatest threat to other horses because the viral load in the bloodstream is very high with greater potential for being spread to other animals.
Fish And Wildlife Enforcment Branch (to former Ontario owner on August 17) “It is paramount that we establish the risk factor, if any, to Alberta’s Equine and Cattle industries…”
The test for EIA is generally referred to as a Coggins test, although a more accurate ELISA-type test is lately being used to test for the disease, which is most frequently found in Saskatchewan and Alberta. In those provinces there’s a reservoir of infected horses that are still not being identified, and could continue to perpetuate the infection.
“Equine infectious anemia (EIA) ….. is a potentially fatal disease caused by a virus that can infect all types of equines, including horses, mules, zebras and donkeys. In most cases, the disease begins with an acute phase of illness, followed by chronic cyclical symptoms, which continue throughout the remainder of the horse’s life. Some horses do not show any symptoms but can still be a source of infection for other animals. EIA occurs throughout Ontario and is an ongoing concern for horse owners in the province.”
Control Measures in Canada
- To conduct EIA testing in Canada, a veterinarian must be federally accredited and send samples only to Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)-approved labs.
- It is required by law that all suspected cases of EIA be immediately reported to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which investigates all reported cases. In Ontario, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) may at times provide assistance with the response.
- If a horse is confirmed to have EIA, it may either be placed under a permanent CFIA quarantine (if it doesn’t have any symptoms) or ordered destroyed with paid compensation.
- The CFIA also requires mandatory testing of imported horses and has strict regulations on import of animals and animal products.
Worms and Germs Blog – “EIA testing is required prior to travel to many places and prior to participating in many competitions or shows. Regular testing of animals that travel frequently helps to identify infected animals more quickly.”
At this point in time testing for EIA is a voluntary program administered by the CFIA, but horse owners in Alberta and Saskatchewan are often cautioned to avoid proximity to horses of unknown
EIA status. This can be tough to do if your horse (or zebra) goes to shows where EIA testing is not mandatory. But with the current problems out west (or anywhere else that EIA may be circulating) testing for EIA prior to moving horses to other provinces is something that should be strongly promoted. This is especially important as the prairies are seeing the highest number of EIA cases in years, with many new cases emerging each year on different properties.
While the Fish and Wildlife people insist in emails that Zorro is a concern for the cattle and equine industry (which is not a frivolous concern) they don’t mention EIA in any emails to former owners of Zorro, nor do they evidently have any concern about the ONTARIO equine industry when they return him without any apparent Coggins test. Was he tested at all before embarking to Ontario? If so when? According to his Alberta owner, no one came to her farm to stick him with a needle at any point, and he was loaded directly on a trailer bound for Ontario with other animals. It is a bit after-the-fact to be testing him once he’s arrived at the zoo isn’t it? Rather like shutting the barn door after the horse has already escaped….According to CAZA (Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums) testing for EIA appears in their Accreditation Standards documentation, and equids must be quarantined, as a “best practice.”
I think it is very unlikely that Zorro has been exposed to EIA. He’s a good weight and looks very healthy in fact. However, complacency is what contributes to the transmission of disease. The zoo equines as well as the horse industry should not be overlooked. I’ve always been required to provide a negative Coggins test even when changing barns within Ontario, because barn owners know that it could devastate their businesses if all the horses had to be destroyed.
It’s rather hypocritical for any level of the Alberta government to express concern only for their cattle and equines (by asking for vet records from previous owners), but not show any basic common sense when sending Zorro to Ontario where we also have equines. In any case, veterinary records from 2012 wouldn’t prove much, and are completely outdated. Coggins is good for six months only. Equines travelling from Alberta and Saskatchewan should automatically be tested before being transferred to the eastern provinces, IMO.