City Council’s decision to allow Spruce Haven Zoo, owned by Ken and Helen Marshall, to be grandfathered into the forthcoming animal control bylaw, has been a hotly debated topic in Sault Ste. Marie these past couple months.
It has come to a head dividing many citizens – those who believe the zoo should be shut down and the animals sent to sanctuaries, and those who support the continuation of the Marshall’s family-run zoo.
An information session on the bylaw was held at Cafe Natura on March 28th, led by concerned citizen, Katherine G. MacRae.
Julie Woodyer from ZooCheck, a Canadian-based international wildlife protection charity, joined in on Skype to present her findings on the Spruce Haven Zoo, as well as make recommendations to citizens who would like to see City Council vote against the bylaw when it comes back for final approval.
Amongst the primary issues raised by attendees were the well-being of the animals, the safety concerns surrounding escaping animals, and the tourism and economic issues that surround having a zoo in an age where eco-tourism and responsible tourism are increasing in importance.
In other words – the damning TripAdvisor reviews, of the Spruce Haven Zoo aren’t doing much to promote the Sault.
“The eyes of the world are on us,” one citizen said.
And she’s not wrong.
Word of Spruce Haven Zoo has spread far beyond the borders of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
In addition to the reviews on TripAdvisor, an internationally renowned resource for trip-planning and tourism, the Dodo, a website devoted to sharing emotionally compelling animal-related stories worldwide, has also taken an interest in Ben the bear.
Almost 300,000 people worldwide have also signed this petition to have the Spruce Haven Zoo shut down.
In terms of safety, it is alleged that a wolf recently escaped from the zoo and, according to event organizers, “It has been reported to have happened before.”
Since the Humane Society has admitted that they do not have the equipment to capture carnivores such as lions, who are supposedly capable of jumping higher than their fence if they felt so inclined, it could be extremely dangerous for residents in the area.
But perhaps most concerning is the psychological impacts on animals like Ben, who has lived most of his life in a 20×20 ft cage.
Woodyer from ZooCheck explained, “He (the bear) has had no opportunity to express natural behaviours, like hibernating or searching for his own food, or any other behaviours that his natural biology has enabled him to do.”
She continued, “The only way he could exhibit normal behaviours is to be completely moved, it is the only way he could change his old habits.”
Ben isn’t the only animal to exhibit pacing behaviours, as explained in Doug Millroy’s previous column on the zoo.
Woodyer is confident that these animals could overcome these psychological impacts and thrive in a sanctuary environment, despite their mature age.
The sanctuary being considered for the lions is the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado, a multi-million dollar facility with a large space for carnivores to roam as well as experienced veterinarians on-site to provide the animals with the care they need.
The other sanctuary, the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Muskoka, has been deemed the perfect fit for Ben the Bear, as well as coyotes, lynx, and the wolves.
Zoocheck has offered to do this now, free of charge to the Marshalls, but this offer may not necessarily last.
There is no telling what the future will hold for these animals, or the Marshalls, if an agreement is not reached sooner rather than later.
Those supporting the closure of the zoo encourage the Marshalls – and City Council – to do this now, before it is too late for sucession planning.
While most people in attendance were on the closure side of the zoo argument, a couple of individuals – including a Marshall family member – made the case for the continuation of the business.
Helen and Ken’s son, Pete, claims that in 31 years, wolves have never broken out of their enclosure until now.
He stated that the neighbour was shooting at the wolf, which is why it panicked and tried to get out.
Pete also claimed that the zoo has had no issues with vandalism, threats from the public, or disruption of animals until after the City Council meeting heated up the conversation.
This is is perceived by the Marshalls as very disheartening behaviour from the community, as the Marshall family have always been great supporters of the Sault and have rescued a number of animals with love and care since its inception in 1988.
While those who oppose the zoo were adamant that this is not a personal matter, “We are not trying to say that the Marshalls are horrible people at all, we know they love the animals,” it seems as though the issue has become a personal one regardless.
This is most likely due to the fact that, as Pete stated, “Those animals are family.”
MacRae has told SaultOnline she is willing to reach a compromise with the Marshalls if they are not happy with the plans that Zoocheck has proposed.
Woodyer has also extended an olive branch with the hopes that the message gets to the Marshalls, saying that Zoocheck would happily arrange and facilitate for the family to visit the animals.
Going forward, there is still opportunity for council to oppose the bylaw. Previously, Councillors Bruni, Butland, Grandinetti, Fata, Krmpotich and Meyers voted to support grandfathering the Spruce Haven Zoo, while Councillors Christian, Hupponen, Niro, and Shoemaker did not.
According to MacRae, Councillor Butland admitted to not having read the materials provided to Council by both Zoocheck and Dr. Martyn Obbard, an expert in environmental and life sciences, specifically in regards to bears, claiming “I know nothing about wild animals.”
The concern with a number of the anti-zoo attendees was simply that Council’s decision was not an educated one.
One citizen stated, “If they don’t vote the way we want them to, at least we know that we gave them all the material we could for them to make an informed decision, and we will know what to do come election time.”
I’ve said this before and I will say it again. No matter where your opinion lies, the critical element in making any kind of decision or holding a stance is knowledge. So ask questions.
Call 1-888-801-3222 or email [email protected] to learn more about what they want to do specifically with our local animals. Reach out to Spruce Haven Zoo and hear them out. Reach out to Katherine G. MacRae to find out more about what was discussed at the bylaw meeting.
Once you have armed yourself with all the tools to decide what you think should happen to animals like Ben the Bear, call up or e-mail City Council. Sign the petition.
But either way – make sure you have digested the facts.
Stay tuned as this issue returns to Council in the coming weeks.