Investigators with the Ontario SPCA (OSPCA) have charged Marineland with five counts of animal cruelty involving several animals, but the facility is defending how the animals have been treated.
According to a statement from the OSPCA on Friday, officials responded to concerns about animals at the Niagara Falls, Ont., facility on Nov. 10.
The OSPCA said Marineland has been charged with the following alleged offences:
- One count for permitting a peacock to be in distress
- One count for failing to comply with prescribed care standards for a peacock
- Two counts for failing to comply with prescribed care standards for Guinea hens
- One count for failing to comply with prescribed care standards, including failure to provide appropriate food and water, for approximately 35 American Black bears.
The statement said none of the animals have been removed, but the OSPCA said it is monitoring the care of the animals. The investigation is still ongoing and OSPCA spokeswoman Alison Cross said further charges are pending.
“If convicted, they could face a $60,000 fine, a lifetime ban in owning animals and up to two years in jail,” she said.
Marineland issued a statement Friday afternoon saying the complaint was prompted by “a former animal care worker who was fired for poor performance and inappropriate behaviour.” However, the OSPCA said it couldn’t divulge information about the complainant.
Marineland said it gave the OSPCA “full access” to all areas and land animals at the park.
With respect to the OSPCA’s announcement, Marineland addressed each charge specifically.
Facility staff said one peacock “out of thosands of birds” had an issue with one eye and that it was otherwise healthy. A Marineland veterinarian has tended to the peacock and it still is receiving treatment, the statement said. It said OSPCA expressed concerns about the Guinea Hens while in the birds’ pen.
“Guinea Hens, like any wild bird, did not respond well to the sudden entrance into their enclosure of four OSPCA staff,” the statement said, adding OSPCA staff “expressed their desire” for more space to be allocated for the birds.
With respect to the bears, Marineland said the OSPCA raised a concern about “small labels attached to fruit and vegetables” that made it into the food provided to the bears, similar to ones found on produce at grocery stores.
“These labels are removed before the produce is given to the bears. Occasionally, a label is missed. That is regrettable but it does not pose any risk to the Bears,” the statement said, adding the bears’ health has been checked by a “qualified veterinarian.”
“The diet for and the health of the bears has been checked numerous times over the last three years by the OSPCA and each time has been approved. The same diet that the OSPCA has approved multiple times for the past four years is continuing to be provided to the bears.”
The statement went on to say that the bears have “easy access to fresh clean water” and that all of the bears, which were checked by veterinary staff on Wednesday, are “extremely healthy.”
Marineland first opened in 1963 when owner John Holer started shows with a few sea lions in a small pool in Niagara Falls.
It has since grown into a massive amusement park with one killer whale, dozens of beluga whales, dolphins, walruses and land animals such as deer, bears, birds and fish.
Phil Demers, a former trainer at Marineland who raised allegations of animal abuse at the facility in 2012, told Global News Friday that he welcomed the announcement.
“The story is the fact that the OSPCA did something about it, or appears to be doing something,” he said.
“I don’t like to hear that animals are being neglected of course, but we’re getting some validation here.”
Demers said he’s not sure what long-term impact this news might have on the facility, but he said he ultimately wants to see the phasing out of animal captivity at Marineland.
“I can appreciate that they would finally start considering that the time when people would support these kinds of practices is long gone,” he said.
The charges announced Friday have not been proven in court.
With files from The Canadian Press