Animal rights activists gathered at the Greater Vancouver Zoo Sunday to protest what they say is the poor treatment of animals, in the wake of the death of an emaciated moose.
Oakleaf, an eight-year-old moose, was euthanized at the Aldergrove facility Wednesday after months of declining body condition, according to zoo veterinarian Dr. Bruce Burton.
Burton told Global News staff had tried multiple diet changes since the winter, but that her condition worsened significantly in recent weeks.
The decision to euthanize came one day after a photo of the moose with its ribs clearly visible circulated on Facebook, which Burton said was “coincidental,” adding that he hadn’t seen the photos before the moose was euthanized.
Activists, however, claim the decision to put the moose down was a result of public scrutiny and argue that the zoo is “sourcing animals in questionable ways, and subsequently not delivering proper care or environment to them either,” according to their Facebook page.
“We have tons of questions. We’re demanding answers and we’re demanding a return to them being at least partially accountable as far as announcing deaths that have occurred here,” said organizer David Isbister with No More Dead Captives.
“If it wasn’t for the public finding Oakleaf’s condition no one would have known about it.”
Demonstrators say they’re also concerned with plans to transition the zoo to housing more large African animals, which they say will not fare well in northern climates.
Protesters point to a 2019 report commissioned by the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) by wildlife protection charity Zoocheck, alleging that many animals at the zoo were “living in barren, undersized cages and enclosures that restrict them from engaging in natural behaviours.”
The zoo maintains that the welfare of its animals is its top priority and that enrichment and conservation remain the institution’s guiding principles.
“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,” zoo general manager Serge Lussier told Global News when the report was released.
Burton said the zookeepers are vigilant but that the facility welcomes feedback from the public if they ever believe an animal is in distress.
“They have a vested interest. They love these animals,” he said. “But if we get input from somebody else it does two things — it provides us with information, but it also indicates that the public are concerned about the health and welfare of these animals.”
Burton said a post-mortem on Oakleaf has not provided a definitive reason for her declining condition, but that he believed she would not have been able to recover.