Winnipeg Humane Society calls for permanent closure to zoo’s controversial stingray exhibit

Stingrays swim through the water at the Stingray Beach pavillion in Assiniboine Park Zoo, in Winnipeg, in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Assiniboine Park Zoo, Wayne Hewitt

What originally sounded like an amusing story about a new exhibit at Assiniboine Park Zoo temporarily shutting down due to overly-amorous stingrays has taken a darker turn.

Shortly after the initial news of the closure, the zoo revealed that the three of the stingrays – 10 per cent of the exhibit’s male population – were actually killed as a result of aggressive mating behaviour.

Now the Winnipeg Humane Society (WHS) is calling for the zoo to permanently shut down the Stingray Beach exhibit, citing unnecessary stress, confinement and suffering on the part of the stingrays.

READ MORE: Lusty stingrays lead to temporary closure of Assiniboine Park Zoo exhibit

In an open letter to the zoo published on the WHS blog Wednesday, the organization’s CEO, Javier Schwersensky, is calling for a complete shutdown of Stingray Beach and for WHS supporters to contact the zoo with their own concerns.

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“Contrary to what we have heard in the media, there is no evidence that these creatures enjoy large-scale human interaction,” said Schwersensky in the blog post.

“Nor do they like being confined to very small pools or that their natural mating behaviours should be altered. Stingrays allowed in these ‘touch tanks’ also have their barbs trimmed, which is not a medically necessary procedure.

“To make matters worse for these poor creatures, these stingrays are being constantly moved from location to location, like a travelling circus, adding stress and affecting their welfare in pursuit of profit.”

Schwersensky praised the work done on a regular basis by the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, but said, “as a friend”, that this particular exhibit needs to be closed down.

A petition calling for the exhibit’s closure is also active, with close to 1,000 signatures so far.

The zoo’s most recent update on the stingray situation, posted June 26 on social media, said its animal care team had seen improvement among the cownose rays, but wanted to give them a few more days of recovery time before deciding on a re-opening timeline.

In a statement Wednesday, the zoo said it disapproves of the way the Humane Society addressed the issue.

“We respect the work of the Winnipeg Humane Society, but do not agree with their position regarding the Stingray Beach exhibit and the role of modern zoos or the manner in which they chose to advance it,” said the statement.

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“Before today, the Winnipeg Humane Society had not contacted us or raised their concerns, which would have been the place to start if they were truly concerned about animal welfare.

“As an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Assiniboine Park Zoo is held to the highest standards for animal welfare and all aspects of Zoo operations. Every five years, we are subjected to a thorough and rigorous accreditation process to ensure we are meeting standards that are constantly being reviewed, scrutinized, and re-evaluated based on the latest research regarding wildlife and the welfare of animals in human care.”

The zoo also said the stingray exhibit is an opportunity to further its conservation message to include ocean life, and to provide a positive, interactive experience for its visitors.

WATCH: Zoo staff feel the loss of animals, much like pet owners do

Click to play video 'Zoo staff feel the loss of animals, much like pet owners do' Zoo staff feel the loss of animals, much like pet owners do
Zoo staff feel the loss of animals, much like pet owners do – Jan 29, 2019