At an antique sale on Saturday, someone remarked to Lynn Gustafson that they hadn’t seen him in the news lately, a fact Gustafson said he was pretty happy with. A few hours later, something happened that would change that fact, and the happiness.
Coyotes were on the loose and a buffalo, emu, and sheep were strange bedfellows Sunday after someone went on a fence-cutting spree at GuZoo during the night.
Gustafson and his family, who own the popular, if controversial, roadside attraction near Three Hills woke Sunday to find donkeys out of their enclosures. Upon investigation, they found 11 cuts in various enclosures at the rural zoo, cuts that also allowed coyotes to run free and left animals big and small in the same spaces.
Owners were able to corral one of the escaped coyotes soon after. Another, said Gustafson, was located nearly one kilometre from the facility “going cross country” and was shot.
One large initial cut was made in a perimeter fence at the 80-acre zoo, through which the animals eventually escaped. Gustafson said the perpetrator knew to do the vandalism on the property’s south side where there are no surveillance cameras.
The zoo has its enemies, and was nearly forced to close two years ago following an investigation that discovered a number of safety issues, health risks and general poor record keeping. It is once again operating with a full zoo permit after a judicial review into the decommissioning of the zoo was dropped.
Gustafson said the “idiots” who vandalized the fences follow a group he says is “almost like a cult,” the Council of Concerned Albertans for Animal Welfare and Public Safety (CCAAWPS).
“We don’t know who did it, but we blame it on a group because they instigate it. They put all this crap out there and then somebody figures they should be on the bandwagon.
“Directly or indirectly, they (the CCAAWPS) pretty near have to accept responsibility because they’ve stirred up the problems,” said Gustafson.
Gustafson said he was able to make temporary fixes to the damage and has been able to open as usual since the incident. More than 10 people came out to help with fixes on Sunday and he said the incident has galvanized more support for the embattled zoo.
CCAAWPS put out a statement Monday saying it is “completely opposed to illegal activities against GuZoo or similar facilities.” It claimed the incident was evidence that security at the zoo is lacking, putting animals and the visiting public at risk.
Society president Devon McDonald accused Gustafson of using the relatively new group as a scapegoat to try to draw sympathy to the zoo.
“People have been campaigning against GuZoo and the conditions the animals are kept in for over 20 years, so he certainly can’t blame our group for that.
“We’ve made it very clear that we don’t condone illegal activities and that it is actually counter-productive to our campaign,” said McDonald.
McDonald added that she personally is skeptical as to the Gustafsons’ account, as on her own visits to the facility, she has witnessed animals getting through open spaces in fencing.
Last May, GuZoo owners alleged that two of the wolves were killed by poisoning and suggested that animal rights groups were behind their deaths. McDonald said the society is still waiting for any testing to prove such an allegation, which she called ridiculous.
Gustafson estimated the damage to his property will cost more than $3,000 to repair. Signs along Hwy 21 directing drivers to the facility were also reported vandalized Sunday morning.
Still, Gustafson said the result could have been a lot worse. Disease could have been spread among the mingling species, or the more dangerous creatures like lions and tigers could have been let free.
He said the plan is to add some solar-powered surveillance cameras to the south side of the property.
Three Hills RCMP are investigating the fence-cutting incident, along with vandalism to the zoo’s road signs. In a separate case, RCMP recently laid a charge of trespassing against a person alleged to be unlawfully on zoo land.
Anyone with information about the damage to the GuZoo’s fences is asked to contact the RCMP Three Hills detachment at 403-443-5538.
GuZoo was established in 1990 and is said to be the largest private licensed wildlife park in North America.