VHS opposes the keeping of wild animals for public display, entertainment or as pets, as it deprives them of the ability to freely engage in instinctual behaviours in their natural environment. Even when bred in captivity, exotic animals retain the behavioural and biological needs that they would have in the wild. They cannot be considered domesticated and they can suffer if they are confined in unnatural environments.
While society continues to tolerate the keeping of exotic animals in zoos, VHS works in pragmatic ways to improve their conditions and treatment. VHS has monitored the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove, B.C. for many years. Working with Zoocheck Canada, we have exposed poor conditions and called the zoo to account for the animals’ welfare.
In 2019, VHS commissioned a report form Zoocheck into conditions at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. The report found that animals at the zoo were suffering from boredom and frustration due to captivity and called on the zoo to establish an “enrichment” program to help alleviate these problems. The report also recommended that the zoo move toward becoming a sanctuary for native species.
We have worked many years to bring issues at the zoo to public attention. Most notably, VHS and Zoocheck led the campaign to have Tina the elephant freed from the zoo and sent to a sanctuary in 2004.
VHS also championed the cause of Hazina, a young hippo kept alone at the Greater Vancouver Zoo in a small, concrete barn for 20 months following her acquisition in 2004. VHS’s demands led to public pressure and an investigation by the BC SPCA into Hazina’s conditions. The investigation resulted in cruelty to animals charges being laid against the zoo in 2006. The charges were later stayed by the Crown (which deemed them “not in the public interest”) but the immense pressure on the zoo resulted in the construction of a long-promised new hippo facility for Hazina.
VHS, along with the BC SPCA, has also long called for provincial regulation of the keeping of exotic animals. In March 2009, the B.C. government announced sweeping new regulations, which not only banned the private keeping of many exotic species but also introduced a new permit system for zoos.
VHS is opposed to the captivity of cetaceans (whales and dolphins), as they are highly intelligent and social animals who have evolved to a very specific set of environmental circumstances that simply cannot be replicated in captivity. We shouldn’t expect animals to thrive in a completely unnatural environment and the frequency of premature deaths of cetaceans held in aquariums supports this view.
Locally, VHS called on the Vancouver Aquarium to phase-out its captive cetacean program for many years. In December of 2016, VHS and Zoocheck Canada published a press release and report challenging the aquarium’s claim that keeping cetaceans provided research that justified their captivity.
In 2019, Canada banned cetacean captivity but many other species continue to be held at the Vancouver Aquarium and other aquariums around the world.
Circuses using performing exotic animals
We oppose the use of exotic and wild animals in entertainment. This includes circuses or any kind of Las Vegas-style show that exploits such animals in performances.
Many cities and towns in British Columbia have banned circuses using exotic animals in performances, but most jurisdictions across Canada still allow them. This means animals continue to be caged, chained and forced to perform degrading tricks for human amusement. Trainers use bullhooks, whips, sticks and electric prods to force animals to perform. In addition, they suffer from long hours of close confinement while being hauled in often unventilated trucks from town to town.
Exotic and wild animals do not belong in cages or tanks in people’s homes, as it can deprive them of their ability to engage in natural behaviours. Often, they suffer from poor housing, nutrition and care.
In addition, buying exotic pets can feed the international trade in wildlife, which harms ecosystems and can put species at risk of extinction.
For these reasons, VHS opposes the sale and keeping of exotic pets and has successfully campaigned for a number of municipal bylaws that ban or restrict the ownership and sale of these animals.
Animals in film, television and advertising
VHS believes no wild or exotic animals should be used in film production, except where the animal is being filmed unobtrusively in its natural habitat. The animal rental agencies that supply these industries are largely unregulated, receiving less oversight than zoos. This means animals can be kept in poor conditions where they are deprived of space and natural surroundings. Though their images may be popular with the public, once the cameras are turned off these animals are returned to their cages and lives of misery. The introduction of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) and animatronics into filmmaking has provided an alternative to the use of captive exotic animals – there is no longer any need to use real animals.
Corporate entertainment and parties
Some captive animal agencies rent out animals for corporate entertainment, birthday parties and so-called “educational” events in malls or community centres. They often claim they are using the animals to teach the public about conservation, but in reality they are exploiting the public’s fascination with exotic animals for profit. When they are not on show the animals are, as usual, languishing in cages.
Working animals – sled dogs
VHS has campaigned for a ban on sled dog tours and races. Even in B.C., which is the only province to regulate sled dog operations, these dogs are kept tethered for long periods, face undue stress in races and can be shot instead of humanely euthanized.