About a dozen protesters were outside of the Bowmanville Zoo Monday as the controversial 97-year-old facility closed its doors for the final time Monday afternoon. The move came after attendance dropped considerably following allegations of animal abuse.
“I’m feeling pretty happy about it,” Sally Diane, a Courtice, Ont. resident, protesting the zoo, said.
“Some of us were also zoo patrons besides me, but most of us have just come together for the love of animals and we all want them to be free,” she said.
The zoo posted a statement on its Facebook page Sunday thanking supporters and announcing admission charges would be waived on Monday. The facility said it was going to accept “voluntary donations at the gate to fund the relocation and rehoming of the animals.”
WATCH: North America’s largest private zoo welcomed its final patron today after allegations of animal abuse decreased attendance. Peter Kim reports.
“As we as a zoo gather at the table of Thanksgiving tomorrow on our final day of operation the thing we are most thankful for are our loyal supporters and followers who have stood with us through thick and thin,” the statement read.
The zoo announced in June that it would close at the end of the 2016 season.
Angus Carroll, the zoo’s director of communications, said at the time attendance dropped by more than 65 per cent after allegations of animal mistreatment arose. He said the decision to close was made “with great sadness.”
“The untrue allegations made by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) in regards to a tiger incident have created a climate in which the zoo can no longer operate. People are staying away because they believe PETA’s allegations,” he said.
In April, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) charged Bowmanville Zoo owner Michael Hackenberger with four counts of causing animal distress and one count of failing to comply with prescribed standards of animal care.
The charges stemmed from a hidden-camera video released by PETA in December 2015, which appeared to show Hackenberger whipping a Siberian tiger during a training session.
Hackenberger denied the allegations and a spokesman has said the zoo supports its owner and believes he is innocent.
Meanwhile in July, the OSPCA launched an investigation into claims a staff member at the Bowmanville Zoo repeatedly shot a giraffe with a BB gun.
PETA said that an alleged eyewitness says they saw a woman in what appeared to be a zoo uniform fire seven times at the giraffe, after closing time at the zoo on June 25.
The zoo didn’t respond to requests for comment at the time.
The Bowmanville Zoo was originally known as the Cream of Barley Park when it opened in 1919 as a recreational resort with a small petting zoo, according to its website.
Global News attempted to speak with a zoo representative Monday, but no one was available for comment.
With files from The Canadian Press and Adam Miller