Whether you’re with friends or family, one of the best things you can do on a bright and sunny day is to visit a zoo and observe the incredible array of wildlife. There are so many fascinating — and sometimes bizarre — species to see, which really makes us appreciate life here on our planet.
Unfortunately, not every zoo cares for its animals to the same degree. In Quebec, for instance, the Canadian government heard something fishy was happening at a roadside attraction, but no one was prepared for what happened once officials followed the tip.
When the weather’s warm and you’re feeling like doing something fun to take advantage of the day, one of the most entertaining options is spending a day strolling through the zoo. However, not all zoos are created equal.
For proof, just look to Saint-Édouard-de-Maskinongé, Quebec, a gorgeous town known for its lush vegetation and amazing camping opportunities. Beauty aside, it also had a very well-known roadside zoo.
It was called the St. Édouard Zoo, and it was created in 1954. When it first began, it only had bison, deer, and several other common species people could find around Canada. But, in 2015, all that changed…
After years of trying to get the proper paperwork in order, the zoo finally received permits to bring in exotic species. Now, visitors could enjoy animals like monkeys, zebras, and giraffes. These permits, however, drew the attention of major animal welfare groups.
The Montreal division of the SPCA caught wind that the zoo was now displaying a far wider variety of animals, and that meant they needed to give the place a visit to determine if living conditions were suitable.
The workers were horrified upon entering the premise. Some animals were alone in cages without food or water, while others were crammed into small confines without proper room to move about.
In an interview afterward, the group’s campaign manager, Ewa Demianowicz, spoke about “dilapidated enclosures and animals that appeared to be in need of veterinary care.” There was something else even more alarming.
Some of the animals were actually endangered species! This meant that not only were animals suffering, but any deaths due to the horrendous conditions were depleting creatures already in short supply. The zoo’s owner was immediately arrested.
Normand Trahan, the man who operated the zoo since 1989, was charged with two counts of criminal animal cruelty. Up until his arrest, no Canadian zoo owner ever faced these serious charges. In other words, he faced serious trouble.
Because, if convicted, he could face up to five years behind bars as well as given a lifetime ban for holding any kind of animal. Investigators had a solid case; they’d been compiling evidence for a long time.
For instance, during one visit in October 2018, officials came across four deceased animals, two of which were tigers, and they removed a pair of alpacas whose health was deteriorating. Closing down the zoo wasn’t so simple, though.
While the closure was definitely a huge win for everyone, the sheer number of animals that now needed transportation away from the site was an enormous task that would take a lot of dedicated people.
So the first thing the group did was close up the gate for good to ensure everyone knew the land was now off limits. And before workers began the massive undertaking, they spoke with locals who knew the zoo well.
As they expected, there was a mix of emotion upon learning of the cruelty charges. Plenty of people had positive zoo experiences over the years. Others, however, weren’t nearly as surprised at the events.
Several town residents admitted to seeing sickly and deceased animals on the property a few times. Another woman claimed that, the last time she was there, the drinking water looked discolored.
Basically, it was a great thing the SPCA swooped in when they did because the zoo was nothing but a prison for the animals. Once word got out of the bust, the group gave a very revealing interview to news outlets.
The executive director of Humane Society International Canada, Rebecca Aldworth, said, “An operation this big requires a huge number of resources and co-operation, from specialized animal handlers to specialized veterinarians, skilled animal transporters, literally tons of animal feed and equipment.”
The lawyer for the SPCA, Sophie Gaillard, placed blame on Quebec’s wildlife department for the zoo’s managing to get the paperwork to import exotic animals. They didn’t do the proper research, and it put hundreds of animals’ lives in jeopardy.
It takes a true lack of empathy to let anything suffer, human or animal. When seedy zoos and roadside attractions are caught, it’s as much of a relief as it is heartbreaking to witness the damage first-hand. PETA learned this the hard way at a zoo in Pennsylvania.
The zoo advertised it had a wide variety of bears for visitors to see. Naturally, people who lived nearby were drawn to the attraction since they never saw bears on the wild.
This roadside zoo was supposed to be a source of fun and entertainment for people all over the region, but the truth was much, much darker. In reality, it was more like an animal prison.
It was especially rough for four bears named Marsha, Fifi, Bruno, and Pocahontas. They were forced to spend their entire lives in a Pennsylvania roadside zoo, and now, their story is finally being told…
As a major attraction of the dingy roadside zoo, the four bears were most prominently displayed in these rusty cages. Besides the uncomfortable living space itself, there was also no shade, shelter, or water for swimming or cooling off.
A closer look at their living space showed they had only a rickety dog house to protect them at night. Not to mention, they were all kept from hibernating according to their natural cycle so they could continue to entertain zoo guests.
When the bears weren’t in their respective cages, they were being forced to participate in cruel circus acts. The “trainers” would place a mask around their faces and a rope around their necks, and then they would bring them out and force them to perform a routine.
By the time the bears were eventually discovered by animal rights organization PETA, they had developed serious health problems. They’d spent their days pacing their cages and shaking, which were signs of severe distress.
Thankfully, the volunteers from PETA had handled many similar cases in the past and knew exactly what to do. After rounding up all of the bears, they quickly transported them to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado.
It was a 24-hour cross-country journey, but the bears finally arrived at the animal sanctuary. They were finally let out of their cages and allowed to roam free for the very first time in their lives. It was a moment that few could ever forget…
It’s so sad that many people still think it’s okay to keep animals in such poor living conditions. Thankfully for these bears, they were finally getting their first taste of freedom. As it turned out, there were many people fighting to end captivity for animals like these bears…
A 2011 incident in Zanesville, Ohio, for example, led to the enactment of the Dangerous Wild Animal Act, which increased regulations on the types of wild animals people in Ohio were allowed to own. It wasn’t meant to punish the animals, but to protect them.
Recently, this law forced Stump Hill Farm—an establishment that branded itself as a rescue—to surrender nine bears to the authorities. The farm was accused of breeding exotic animals, which was not in line with the missions of rescue organizations.
These bears, which were a mix of black and grizzly, were in poor health. Some were malnourished, while others were extremely overweight. But the one thing they all had in common was they were all forced to live in cages for their entire lives.
Once they were rescued, they were held in a temporary state-run facility before they were placed in permanent care. It wasn’t long, however, before the staff learned that two of the bears, Molly and Ersila, were both pregnant. Soon, there were 13 bears instead of nine!
The bears would need to be moved if they wanted to grow up in good health. So PETA stepped in and brought the bears—all 13 of them—to the same Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado where the bears from Pennsylvania had gone.
It took a while for the bears to warm up in their new living space, but the staff was more than ready to manage their anxiety. At first, they were given an optional caged safe space, in case their nerves got the best of them…
With the proper care, however, the bears finally began to explore their new surroundings covering the sanctuary’s expansive grounds. It was like nothing they’d ever experienced in their lives before!
It should come as no surprise that they adjusted so quickly, especially since bears are incredibly adaptive animals. The staff was in no rush to get them acquainted with the outdoors, and they were determined to give them all the time they needed.
Luckily, Molly and Ersila—the two new mother bears—didn’t have to turn over their cubs, which was what would’ve happened had they still lived in captivity. In Colorado, they were allowed to stay together as a family!
It’s amazing that so many people are dedicating their lives to rescuing bears from captivity. Just see the difference on their faces when they were were discovered until the moment they learned they were truly free from their cages!