Tag Archives: “Nicholas Wilvert”

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Bowmanville Zoo Exotic Cats Get A Reprieve From Declawing



Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

Captive tigers and lions, among other zoo animals, are often exploited for gimmicky photoshoots and photo-ops. The Bowmanville Zoos star tiger Jonas (who was featured in the movie Life of Pi) would go home with the zoo staff and play with their dogs – of course he couldn’t do this unless he was declawed. He passed away in 2011 as a result of a birth defect, and Limba the asian elephant was euthanized at the zoo in December 2013.

declawing is tortureNow the focus has shifted onto the youngest exotic cats, who were born in the summer, as a replacement revenue stream for Jonas and Limba. In the past, all of the exotic cats at the Zoo had been declawed, to make them “safe” to interact with the public and the Zoo staff. But after an announcement about the inevitable declaw for the young exotic cats was posted on the zoos Facebook page, the Paw Project, a group working to end the inhumane practice of declawing through education and legislation, called on the Zoo to renounce the operation on the grounds that it was inhumane. Declawing, or onchyectomy, is the amputation of the last digital bone, including the nail bed and claw, on each front toe. An amputation is the removal of a part of the body from the rest of the body. The cat’s claw is not a nail as is a human fingernail, it is part of the last bone (distal phalanx) in the cat’s toe and this region must be removed completely, or regrowth of a vestigial claw and abscess-formation result. To remove the claw: the bone, nerve, joint capsule, ligaments, and the tendons must all be amputated. Thus declawing is not a simple single surgery but ten separate, painful amputations of the third phalanx up to the last joint of each toe. If the surgery is performed correctly and the entire nail bed is removed, the claw cannot regrow.  It is not without risks, including anaesthetic complications, haemorrhaging, and extreme pain. In terms of seriousness it is not comparable to soft-tissue surgeries suAnimals Belong in the wildch as spay/neuter, where recovery time is much quicker.

AVMA, CVMA, and USDA all oppose declawing big cats. And it was only in the last few days that CAZA – Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums issued a statement that they were going to develop a policy on declawing – a decision that may have resulted in the Zoo losing its accreditation if they did not comply with any resulting opposition to declawing.

At a protest on September 28th, the Zoo tried various strategies to stifle the protesters’ free speech, including glaring at us from across the street, calling the cops in an attempt to stop our educational and limited use of the megaphone, and encouraging two of the “Real Housewives of the Bowmanville Trailer Park Community” to complain to the police that our megapohone use, at 12 pm in the afternoon from across a busy highway, was too disruptive to both them and the Zoo animals. The megaphone use was even more disruptive apparently than the non-stop carnival music emanating from Funland at the same time. The police however, were unconvinced and we were allowed to continue, also due to the fact that there are no bylaws against megaphone use in the town. Furthermore, last year we did our due diligence – I paid my way into the Zoo to digitally record the noise level from megaphone use from inside the zoo where it was claimed that the giraffes were disturbed. While chatting with Zoo Director Michael Hackenberger while the megaphone was in use and asking him about his concerns for the young giraffes in the enclosure, he never once mentioned that the megaphone was disruptive to them. In fact, the animals did not react to it as it could barely be heard at all.  Of course it hardly helped the Zoos’ claim that the giraffes were frightened when we could see them from across the street poking their heads out at us curiously from inside their enclosure,  appearing utterly unruffled by the megaphone. work by Nicholas Wilvert.

When none of these strategies served to deter our peaceful protest, the head zookeeper crossed the road to rather contritely state that no one in the Zoo had any idea from where the “rumour” about declawing originated, so I assume that after the protest, the creative writing intern managing their Facebook page probably got some sort of dressing-down for confirming the declaw procedure not once but several times.

Bowmanville zoo declaw

Bread and circuses…

The combined protest across from the Zoo property and the social media backlash, even by many of their own regular patrons, led to the Zoo issuing a statement abandoning the declawing plan a few days later. In their manicure or mutilationunique way, Zoo management always manages to backtrack by claiming that the idea was for the safety of the animals and never for the handlers or the public, even though this was not the message point that was posted on Facebook.

Michael Hackenberger was adamant he had not made a final decision on whether to declaw the cats and called the reaction by some in the animal rights community “uninformed and knee-jerk.”  However, it was hardly reactionary since the Zoo’s own Facebook page advised visitors that it was policy to declaw the cats since it’s safer for handlers to work with them. In the end, Hackenberger himself appeared to take credit for ending declawing at the Zoo, and that’s fine – however the Zoo arrives at the conclusion that they need to stop declawing matters little so long as they do.

In the US, declawing is done by circuses to prevent human injury but is no longer popular – and it is in violation of USDA regulations. Various circus acts have been cited by the USDA for mistreatment of their big cats, including acts featured at casinos, which were named for declawing lions and tigers. It is alleged that even the Make a Wish Foundation arranges for adults and children to meet and closely interact with declawed tigers.

Experts say that working with dangerous animals like tigers is a bad idea both for the trainers and for the animals, citing the fact that tigers, along with elephants, are the main causes of occupational fatalities for circus workers and zoo keepers.  But still,  not everyone’s happy,  even though the outcome is a win for both the Zoo and the cats.  The Supporters of Bowmanville Zoo Facebook page,  which is certainly not a support page for the animals but a page to complain about zoo protests,  is determined to try to take down a Facebook page dedicated to ending declawing in Canada as “harassment” of the Zoo.  And those people are proof that just because you got the monkey off your back it doesn’t mean the circus has left town.

"nicholas wilvert"




The Elephant in the Room

Frances Bull African Elephant

© Frances Bull

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

Toronto has, in the last year, been a hotbed of controversy when it comes to wild animals.  First the city saw the media circus that surrounded Darwin “the IKEA monkey,” who escaped from a crate in a car – an oversight that led to an unjust lawsuit against the sanctuary who cared for him afterwards.  Since Darwin’s former owner has not finished giving grief to the sanctuary or making a laughing stock of herself, there will be a subsequent appeal in 2014 or 2015.  Most recently, the Toronto Zoo elephants (the TZ-3) were relocated to the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in California two weeks ago, amid outcry from zoo aficionados and exotics owners across Canada and the US.

Suffice it to say that all is not well with the charismatic megafauna in Canadian zoos –vitriolic controversy has erupted over Limba, the Bowmanville Zoo elephant, who by most accounts, is ready to retire from standing on stools,  attending weddings, and launching wineries.  After animal activist Michael Sizer proposed a direct action protest against the Bowmanville Santa Claus Parade,  the parade organizers uninvited Limba,  to avoid becoming a battleground between the activists and others who insisted that it was their right to see this aging elephant entertain them.

In response to the un-vitation, Zoo Director Michael Hackenberger withdrew all the animals from the parade out of spite, prompting outrage from zoo proponents who claim their holiday is now ruined.  I don’t quite understand how the parade is “ruined” since it hasn’t featured Limba since approximately 2009 anyway?  Nevertheless,  nastygrammers, rabblerousers and Facebook spammers made veiled threats about the possibility of spontaneous tire damage to protesters vehicles (got the screen caps to prove it) while attempting to strongarm protesters into abandoning the right to freedom of peaceful assembly (section 2c), as accorded in The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is entrenched in Canada’s constitution.

elephant carousel

© Heather Clemenceau

Protests at the zoo over the summer have focused on Limba,  while Hackenberger claims that the protesters use of megaphones is in conflict with his “stance to maintain animal welfare.”  Not so fast!   While I agree that inconsiderate use of a megaphone near flight animals would indeed be a foolish undertaking, I’m reluctant to accept his assertions that animals are being spooked.  But now the Durham Region Humane Society is involved, and to my mind, this is a good thing.

“Tuesday night’s council resolution came in response to a request from zoo owner Michael Hackenberger for the municipality to ban megaphones and other voice amplifiers within 50 metres of the zoo entrance.

It directs staff to work with the Durham Region Humane Society, police and the zoo to “help regulate any activity that may cause giraffes or other animals to be in distress.”

Protesters have held two recent rallies in front of the facility about 50 kilometres east of Toronto, calling for the retirement of Limba, a 50-year-old elephant.”

Well,  these directions are hardly revolutionary;  the police have typically been in attendance at zoo protests and know that the protesters are well-behaved individuals who responsibly limit the use of the megaphone to sporadic incidents.

“The young ungulates are a “consummate prey species” and naturally skittish, he said. A megaphone blaring the apparent evils of zoos could send one into panicked flight, risking injury if it crashes into a fence or falls. “

I visited Bowmanville zoo for the first time a few months ago.  I paid my $23 admission and walked the entirety of the park for one main reason – to see if the megaphone use was disturbing the animals – any animals.  If there was any evidence that animals were panicking, I know that these very conscientious protesters would have simply ceased using the megaphone.  Because the weanling giraffes were the subject of Hackenberger’s complaint about the megaphone use, I loitered around the giraffe area to the point where it was probably attracting attention.  But Hackenberger might want to ban screeching children from the zoo before he gets too overwrought about megaphones – I had to strain to hear any voices coming from the street a few hundred feet away – at various times I would not have been able to hear someone speaking beside me due to the noise the kids were making right next to me.  And you can’t hear the megaphone on the video I recorded below either.  Neither apparently,  can the giraffes…..

“Hackenberger said the racket, particularly megaphones, can distress animals. He’s particularly worried about a pair of giraffe youngsters who arrived several weeks ago and live at the front of the complex.”

VME catchphrase

This truth-challenged individual simply cannot be honest about the parade protest. The animal rights community recognizes some of the same people from the Darwin IKEA monkey case as chronic, habitual liars.  It’s quite clear from reading Michael Sizer’s manifesto that neither he nor anyone else has any intention of causing harm to animals or people. http://www.examiner.com/article/activist-explains-why-not-having-limba-at-santa-s-parade

Note from the video that Michael Hackenberger really had every opportunity to mention problems or concerns about “de-spooking” the young giraffes to the sounds of the megaphone – I specifically asked him what concerns he had about the new giraffes.  He feels open enough to discuss the issues with parasitic infestations of the various species at the zoo and the zoos’ preventative maintenance protocols.  He didn’t even mention the megaphone.  Also note that when the giraffes are out of quarantine, their paddock will encompass the most southerly part of the zoo and the giraffes will be right next to the street.  Also notice that there is a backhoe in the same general area as the quarantine paddock.  I guarantee you that the first time a flight animal hears a backhoe roar to life, they will take notice!   However,  after they are desensitized to the noise,  they will take no further notice of it since they don’t see it as a threat.  In my opinion,  a backhoe is far more likely to induce fear in flight animals than a megaphone that’s almost impossible to hear.  That’s because the protesters are standing across the street from a fairly busy roadway while conducting their protests.  They are not even situated on the same side of the street as the zoo.

Mr. Hackenberger indicates in the conversation that the giraffes are slowly being acclimatized to ambient noises, which is why they’re in a small fenced-in paddock – so they don’t hurt themselves if they are startled.  People might think it’s unfair to house them in a tiny space,  but it’s a actually a common-sense solution – for the short term.  But the whole time I’m interviewing him, the activists were out on the street using the megaphone, and neither Hackenberger nor the giraffes reacted to it.  So I can only agree with zoo protest organizer Nicholas Wilvert that the attempt to silence the megaphone is a tactic to squelch free speech.

Zoo Groups spread false info

How I wish the pro-zoo zealots would quit making shit up. There are no children set loose to run in the zoo and create havoc on behalf of the protesters (certainly not at $23 a pop either). The only screaming comes from children inside the zoo with their parents. The only truthful remark here is that Hackenberger asked for a moratorium on the use of the megaphone. Everything else is complete and utter fiction. Disruption on the zoo opening day was actually caused by a man who appeared to be a zoo supporter,  objecting to an audience member asking pointed questions.  He diverted the Q&A period,  so please get your facts straight!

I’m actually in complete agreement with the town of Clarington’s council – I agree that the Durham Region Humane Society should evaluate the use of the megaphone.  I hope any review they conduct will be impartial and accurate, and in the best interest of the animals whilst balancing the rights of the protesters.  At this time, there seems to be a lack of evidence that animals are being spooked by protesters at the zoo,  despite the outrageous stories you may read on pro-zoo boards to discredit the animal rights activists.

Blogger Laura Templeton describes the attempts to discredit the animal rights community.  I’ve also observed this phenomenon reaching a fever pitch over the TZ-3 elephants transfer to PAWS – during and after which so many outright fabrications surfaced about activists!  If the animal rights community in Durham Region and the GTA committed ¼ of the horrible acts that are attributed to us, many of us would have been jailed and completely ostracized from our communities.

Even if there is disagreement over Limba’s care or her long-distance trips,  we must acknowledge that animals just do not belong stuck in our world irrespective of how well we treat them. I am not anti-zoo myself, since many animals do well in captivity or are capable of thriving in carefully constructed enviros.  But Canada is not geographically suited to animals that evolved in equatorial climates or evolved to travel long distances as part of their routine or foraging habits.  Elephants’ bodies were designed to shed heat and not struggle to maintain it.  Cold climates and tight enclosures – they’re a far cry from the vast hot expanses of elephants’ natural environments.

taj mahal and elephants

© Heather Clemenceau

It cannot be said that because Limba seems to be a gentle elephant that she is therefore predictable in her behaviour either.  Behaviour can change unexpectedly as these animals may eventually snap from years of stress.   Limba has apparently hurt several trainers in the past.  When I saw her at the zoo a couple of months ago, she stood at the extremity of her paddock with her head faced as far away from gawkers as possible.  Even if Limba is treated well when she is travelling to circus events, wedding promotions, or winery outings, seeing her at these types of events desensitizes people to the plight of performing animals and encourages people to visit Ringling Brothers circus which has a nightmarish reputation for abusive practices.  This perpetuates the breeding of animals that will only have to endure captivity, unsuitable environments, and abusive training methods in circuses.

I don’t personally doubt that Limba has accepted her caretakers, but again, she really had little choice.  Humans are a poor substitute for members of an animals’ own species.  It cannot be said to be free will when there is an absence of choice.