Details emerge of alleged abuse at now-closed St-Edouard Zoo

The animals in a small Quebec zoo at the heart of an animal cruelty investigation were allegedly malnourished and lacked adequate space, water and veterinary care, according to newly released court documents.

The documents, which were filed in May in order to obtain a warrant, provide a detailed picture of the investigation which led to the seizure of over 100 animals from the St-Edouard Zoo and the arrest of its owner on charges of criminal animal cruelty and neglect.

The document relies on previous veterinary reports on the animals as well as the observations of SPCA investigators and a vet during two visits by the SPCA in 2018.

During a visit last October, the investigators found the animals had no access to water, their enclosures were sometimes too small, dirty and dangerous, they were given inappropriate food and they were deprived of veterinary care.

"A large number of the 150 animals presently on the site are at risk in the short term of dying of hunger or cold, limited to eating food inappropriate for them (that is) highly contaminated, often from their own excrement, frozen, and sometimes toxic for them," wrote Dr. Marion Desmarchelier, a vet who served as the SPCA's expert during the visit.

"Over the course of my career, I've worked in many zoological institutions in France, the United States and Canada. I've visited and worked with small family zoos with very few resources. But in 15 years, I've never seen anything approaching the conditions I saw during this search of the St-Edouard Zoo," Desmarchelier concluded.

The allegations have not been tested in court. A lawyer for the zoo's owner, Normand Trahan, has said he denies the animals were mistreated, noting he had been in business for 30 years and held all the proper permits. Trahan's lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The court document describes that case of a young lioness named Layla that died from complications stemming from a lack of calcium, despite the fact that Trahan had been warned by a vet about the need to supplement her diet.

A veterinarian visited the animal in 2016 and noted she had a fractured pelvis and stunted growth, due to malnutrition, according to the document. The veterinarian prescribed dietary changes, including calcium and vitamin supplements after learning that Layla was being fed a diet consisting almost solely of ground meat, according to the court document.

In 2017, the animal appeared to be doing better, according to another vet report. However, Trahan allegedly refused to send the lioness for X-rays and later stopped giving the supplements, the vet reported. Trahan later told investigators in 2018 that the animal had died because the treatment hadn't worked.

The zoo's former veterinarian, Sebastien Henley, quit in Feb. 2018 after three lemurs whose digits had been lost due to freezing were left without veterinary care for a week, according to the document.

When interviewed by inspectors in October 2018, Trahan admitted that some of his enclosures were inadequate and the drinking water was frozen the day of the visit. He also said he did not provide heated shelters for animals from warm climates, and that most animals had no veterinary care. He said that when animals were sick, he kept them away from the public or sold them in order to avoid complaints, according to the document.

He also admitted to killing a bird by stepping on its stomach and shooting a lion and tiger to death, the document says.

Animal welfare groups descended on the St-Edouard Zoo, about 120 kilometres east of Montreal, on May 21 and charged the owner with one count each of criminal animal neglect and criminal animal cruelty.

They moved to seize over 100 wild and exotic animals including lions, tigers, wolves, deer and dozens of other species from the rural property east of Montreal.

But a lawyer for Trahan filed a motion seeking a cancellation of the seizure warrants, which put the transfer on hold a few days later.

The Quebec workers' safety board eventually ordered the facility closed in early June, saying the site wasn't safe for the workers who have been caring for the animals.