Monday, May 5, 2008

The Naughty List

So, the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo has made sure they're getting a big ol' lump of coal from Santa next Christmas.

Just in time for Mother's Day, it was reported in the Toronto Sun that the zoo has started killing male baby Reindeer to "manage the herd". Two years ago, zoo executives gave approval in principle to the euthanizing of male reindeer, and for the first time in the zoo's history newborn calves were euthanized, the first shortly after his birth on April 8th. and the second on April 22nd. Both boys were perfectly healthy.

"Euthanized due to being male," says the keepers' report. The keepers were so upset they left as the vets moved into the reindeer enclosure and refused to take part. "This is wrong," they told the vets, who were also upset by the decision. Three female babies have been spared. Says one staffer: "This bothers me more than anything I've ever experienced here. Many of us feel these are not our animals and not management's animals, but belong to the city, to the people of Toronto. And they should know what's happening." Says another: "I'm sick to my stomach. This is the beginning of a road we don't want to go down."

Maria Franke, Curator of Mammals, says the decision to euthanize male reindeer calves was made by something called the Animal Care, Research and Acquisition Committee. "It was a gruelling process, we do not take this lightly. There is science behind it."

Science killed the Baby Reindeer?

"I know some keepers are upset. I know it's a sensitive subject." says Franke. Well, killing perfectly healthy baby animals has a tendency to do that, Maria.

When asked why breed the reindeers if half are doomed? Franke replied, "If we did not, we would end up with no reindeer, we aren't just an entertainment facility. We're a conservation facility and our goal is to manage genetically viable populations of animals. Sounds a little Brave New World-ish to me.

People are mad, as evident from the Interactive Talk Back to the Sun for readers to write to the daily about what they think about the zoo's newly implemented practice. Here's just a few:

Lori Turner of Mississauga - "I am certain that the zoo's mission statement does not include the murder of their new babies, of any species. This goes against everything that a zoo stands for, including preservation. As evidenced by the outpouring of anger, there WERE other options for these babies. Neuter the males.. and we'll deal with the spectre of stunted antlers. The zoo should be ashamed of themselves. The eyes of the world will be watching to see the outcome of this story."

Wanetta Doucette-Goodman of Scarborough - "I am absolutely disgusted that the Toronto Zoo would do such a thing as euthanize these precious babies without trying to find alternate homes for them once they were of age to live away from their mother. How very sad to think that those two mothers cried and pained for the beautiful babies that they carried in their wombs and prepared to nurse once born. SHAME ON YOU. SHAME. I will NEVER go back to the Zoo as long as such a practice continues. Those people responsible for such a selfish decision should be ASHAMED!!!!! There are ALWAYS alternatives to MURDER! Which is EXACTLY WHAT YOU DID TO THESE INNOCENT BABIES!!!"

This story has just broke, and I'm sure there is going to be much more of the same sentiment and outrage conveyed over the coming days. More than likely, we'll also hear from PETA

Two Ontario farmers, Phyllis Mathison and Tony Porter, have come forward to accept a possible male calf as another reindeer is due to give birth any day now. Upset by the euthanization of the two healthy baby bulls, Mathison and Porter wonder why officials didn't offer them to another zoo, seek foster human parents or sell them.

Porter, who uses his reindeer while playing Santa in Christmas parades and has a dozen reindeer, a camel, a zebra, a kangaroo and other critters on the farm he and his wife own near Shelburne, said yesterday that by killing males, the zoo risks having no animals for breeding. Mathison added that if another male reindeer is born at the Toronto Zoo, "I'm willing to take them in my home to look after, even if it means getting up very two hours for feeding... It's better than having them put down."

While Toronto Zoo staff and veterinarians assigned to the culling were angry, officials stated male reindeer are hard to sell and have health issues. Porter insists that is not so. "There are some impediments selling bulls, but it's not disease," adding zoo bosses are wrong when they say keeping a castrated male affects antler growth. "By killing males, the zoo risks having no animals for breeding. They're not an easy animal to raise ... calves have fairly high mortality rates."

Reindeer have been domesticated for centuries and "the option of releasing them in the wild would only doom them," said Porter, who's been in touch with private reindeer owners across Canada and the U.S. "I could have placed those two babies immediately. I don't need any more bulls, but I'd have taken them in."

Zoo board member Mike Del Grande, a city councillor, said he doesn't get involved in daily decisions but will ask why officials decided to destroy unwanted male calves and did not issue statements addressing public concerns. "Were other options explored?" he said. Is this ironic? Have heads started to roll already?

It will be interesting to see the drama unfold if this new calf that is poised to make it's debut very soon is a wee boy, and if the zoo will in fact murder, or, sorry, 'euthanize' it if it's a male calf.

I'm waiting for the Press Release from here, and for the lack of a more appropriate way to put it, Santa Claus is going to be really pissed!

UPDATE: The fate of a baby boy reindeer, who was born late Sunday night, will be decided at an emergency meeting of zoo officials within days.
"We are once again looking at the options," Robin Hale, acting CEO at the Toronto Zoo, said.

The City Councillor for Scarborough Centre, Michael Thompson, is on the board of the Toronto Zoo and is rooting for little Rudolph. He is not surprised by the outpouring of sympathy from the public, and "If there are people out there who are willing to take care of these animals, I don't think that we should be looking at any other options,"

Councillor Raymond Cho, chairman of the Toronto Zoo board, admitted the policy is upsetting but is confident the zoo is acting in the reindeer's best interests.

~Thanks to Strobel & The Toronto Sun for all the 411.

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