Days after a report suggested a zoo in B.C.'s Lower Mainland isn't doing enough for its residents, the general manager is defending its practices.
The report by ZooCheck, an organization that monitors Canadian zoos, described the enclosures at the Greater Vancouver Zoo as "small" and "barren."
The habitats were detrimental to the animals contained inside them, ZooCheck said in the report commissioned by the Vancouver Humane Society.
The zoo's raptors exhibit, for example, doesn't provide enough room for the large birds inside to fly, the report said.
ZooCheck also suggested its vivarium contains reptiles in "very restricted circumstances," and an enclosure for squirrel monkeys is too small. The hippo habitat is "not suitable for the permanent keeping of these animals," the report said.
Animals are also showing signs of boredom and frustration due to captivity, the 40-page report suggested.
Peter Fricker of the VHS said the animals' enclosures are preventing them from engaging in natural behaviours such as climbing, foraging or digging.
"You need to keep changing their habitat in order to get the kind of stimulation they were to get in the wild," he said.
Fricker said burying food and scents could help, but he also expressed concerns about the type of animals living at the facility in Aldergrove.
The wet, cool climate is unsuitable for many animals, he said. Some enclosures are muddy and there is standing water in some areas, ZooCheck said.
"Giraffes just do not belong on the West Coast of Canada," he told CTV News Monday.
Fricker recommended the giraffes be relocated to another facility, or that the zoo consider building a larger, climate controlled enclosure.
CTV reached out to the Greater Vancouver Zoo for comment, and received a response the next day from its new general manager.
In an email, Sarge Lussier said the welfare of the animals at the zoo "is our primary concern.
"Our goal is to provide the best possible conditions for the zoo's animal collection by continually evaluating and improving all aspects of the animals' homes, social situations, husbandry and nutrition."
Lussier also addressed Fricker's suggestion that the animals need more enrichment, saying the zoo already has a comprehensive program in place.
He said the zoo works at "promoting a healthy psychology and behavioural ecology," and that actions are taken daily to keep the animals from feeling bored.
The program includes introducing what he described as "novel items," and through behavioural conditioning.
Earlier this week, the Vancouver Humane Society said it would like to see the facility's focus switch from providing entertainment for humans to involvement in conservation efforts. The VHS urged the zoo to stop bringing in exotic animals, and instead become a sanctuary for local species.
Lussier said the zoo "is committed to conservation" and makes efforts to protect and preserve the natural environment. He said the zoo has twice been the recipient of a conservation award, first for its efforts to recover an endangered species, and again this year for preservation efforts on the Salmon River.
"Our vision remains to be a leader in the conservation efforts of animals and protection of the habitat they live in and will continue to inspire appreciation of our ecosystems and support conservation efforts by engaging our guests and the community," Lussier said in the email.
As for suggestions from Fricker and ZooCheck that work needs to be done to improve the animals' living conditions, it appears to be part of a longer-term plan outlined by Lussier in his email to CTV.
The general manager said the zoo plans to create a new, larger feline complex, and an "African savanna project" that will see species living together "as they do in their natural habitat."
Read the full ZooCheck report on the Vancouver Humane Society website.
The VHS also posted a petition asking the public to send a message to the Greater Vancouver Zoo, asking the facility to invest in a "comprehensive program of behavioural and environmental enrichment," and to transition from a zoo of exotic animals to a sanctuary for native species.
As of Wednesday, it appeared that 422 people had signed the petition.