Euthanasia may be an option for some of the animals ordered removed from a private zoo, says a spokesman for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.
On Wednesday, provincial officials told GuZoo owner Lynn Gustafson that his operation had been decommissioned, giving him one week to create a plan for dispersing the wild and exotic animals in his care.
A review of the operation performed by members of the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums found that, while the animals appeared to be in good condition, the operation fails on a number of standards, SRD public affairs officer Darcy Whiteside said on Thursday. The site poses a risk for visitors and staff, co-mingling of species raises the risk of spreading disease and parasites, insufficient training of staff and insufficient records on the animals and the care they receive, said Whiteside.
Gustafson is free to keep his domestic animals, but they cannot be sold through normal channels, including auction markets or moved to other farms.
Wild and exotic animals must be removed from the farm, said Whiteside.
“He does have to have a plan in place to look at the details of where and what these animals are going to — a detailed plan.
“Unfortunately, euthanasia is an option. It’s definitely not the first option we would be looking at. Definitely, we want to work with him,” he said.
Gustafson said he has a decommissioning plan in place already, drawn up in order to receive his permits.
If it turns out that some animals have to be killed, he wants to know whether the province has a plan to compensate him for the loss.
The camels alone are worth $30,000, he said.
Gustafson’s plan, for now, is to continue operating the zoo without a licence, featuring only the domestic animals.
He said he has been given a temporary shelter permit for the wild and exotic animals, so he can continue to care for them while their final destiny is being worked out.
Dave Ealey, issues manager for SRD’s communications office, confirmed that no licence is required for the GuZoo to operate with domestic animals only.
But the situation is ringing alarm bells among supporters and others in the industry.
Doug Bos, operator of Discovery Wildlife Park at Innisfail, said he is concerned that he and other members of SRD’s zoo advisory council were not given an opportunity to see the CAZA report and make recommendations to the minister.
Whiteside and Ealey said the review falls outside the council’s mandate, which is to study and make recommendations on existing standards for the zoos that fall within SRD’s jurisdiction.
“The situation was made internally to develop this particular process, which ended up being a lot more comprehensive than anything we had previously thought we might have,” said Ealey.
Bos said he is worried also that his zoo may be the next target for animal rights organizations that have campaigned to have the GuZoo shut down.
Animal rights campaigns had little to do with the decision to have CAZA perform the review, said Ealey. While the province was aware of public campaigns against the farm, the review was ordered because the government felt there was need to have a more comprehensive review performed than what had been done in the past, he said.
Gustafson said he first received his zoo licence in 1990, about three years after starting a fur farm on his mixed operation between Trochu and Three Hills. The farm had been hosting school tours, so it was not a long leap to expand it to a private zoo, he said.
GuZoo supporter Edie Stutter of Alix said Gustafson and his family do not deserve the treatment they have suffered through social media campaigns.
“I think that everything that has happened is really pathetic. It’s just not fair,” said Stutter.
“They’re basically saying, ‘We don’t want you to have animals — they have to be put down.’”