A zoo with a history of controversy may be done exhibiting many of its animals, such as tigers, lions and bears.
The GuZoo Animal Farm — under attack from animal rights groups and in conflict with provincial government agencies — has been ordered closed to the public until a number of deficiencies are corrected.
Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) gave the GuZoo, operated near Three Hills since 1987 by Lynn Gustafson, 30 days as of Tuesday to correct the deficiencies before it can apply for its annual zoo permit. It’s latest permit expired on Tuesday.
When the Advocate tried to reach someone at the zoo on Wednesday, a woman’s voice message stated: “Hello, the GuZoo Animal Farm is temporarily closed. We will be dispersing all of the licensed and wildlife animals.
“We had wanted to allow the public to come and say their last goodbyes to their favourites but the government will not allow the public here until all the licensed and wildlife animals are gone. Once that happens we’re hoping to reopen again.”
It’s not known how the animals will be dispersed.
Duncan MacDonnell, a public affairs officer with ESRD, said the GuZoo was issued a 30-day working permit plus a list of conditions of deficiencies that they must correct in order to remain in operation.
“Deficiencies to be addressed include conditions related to animal health care, general animal care, animal protection, public and staff safety, and annual inventory,” MacDonnell said.
He would not elaborate on the deficiencies.
“Basically we’re giving them an opportunity to comply with the province’s zoo policy and standards. This is all supported by the Alberta Zoo Advisory Committee, which reviewed the operations of the facility and the steps that had been taken to address those deficiencies.”
If they comply, they can then apply again for a zoo permit. Meanwhile, no public access is permitted during the term of the temporary permit, MacDonnell said.
On March 2, the GuZoo was inspected by staff from ESRD, Alberta Health Services and other provincial and federal agencies.
“It found that very little work had been completed on addressing deficiencies noted earlier and that several additional concerns were raised,” said MacDonnell.
“If they’ve (GuZoo) posted a message that says they’re being forced to divest the animals, I don’t know what that’s all about. How they’re interpreting it is up to them but in our minds they’ve got 30 days to meet the deficiencies,” he said.
Voices for Animals Humane Society and Zoocheck Canada have been attempting through the courts to have the zoo’s permit cancelled because they believe the GuZoo has failed to meet minimum standards.
Tove Reece, executive director for Voices for Animals in Edmonton, said the society is happy that ESRD is enforcing its regulations, but she is concerned about how the animals are being dispersed.
Some of the zoo animals probably can’t be sold, Reece said. She fears some will be destroyed. “Bears, you just can’t get any money for them, it’s really sad … there are sanctuaries that will take them,” Reece said.
Last week, the Alberta Court of Appeal filed a decision to dismiss an appeal by the GuZoo, Lynn Gustafson and three other people, regarding a judge’s order last June.
That order required GuZoo operators to allow Alberta Health Services, RCMP, ESRD, Alberta Agriculture and the Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on the property, and awarded costs of $1,250 to AHS.
The GuZoo and Gustafson’s appeal of the order argued in part that AHS did not need a court order to inspect the zoo and its lands and that they had not hindered or interfered with the health authority in the exercise of its power.
“We disagree. Some of the areas which the regional health authority wished to enter and inspect, the appellants argue, are private places. So without the consent of the owners, an order is required,” the Appeal Court said.
“The appellants claim they did not hinder or interfere … yet even in their submissions to this court the appellants stated that they did refuse to consent … an inspection of the area in question.”