Shutting Down Spruce ‘Haven’ Zoo the Right Thing to Do


I can understand Ken Marshall not wanting to lose his Spruce Haven Nature Park, formerly Spruce Haven Zoo, which is what will happen unless it is grandfathered into a bylaw banning zoos from the city that council is considering.

But I believe council also will have to look at the situation from the point of view of the animals, as it did when it voted in 1996 to close the zoo operated by the city at Bellevue Park.

That move was initiated, as this one is, by Zoocheck Canada, which described the Bellevue zoo as “a barren, unsuitable environment for animals . . . lacking space, stimuli and security,” a description anyone who had seen the zoo and its horrific conditions could attest to.

The same is now being said by Zoocheck of the Spruce Haven Zoo. And it is not as if it is the first time.

Over the years the zoo has been the subject of rebuke from the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as well as Zoocheck.

At present the zoo is the subject of a scathing report by Dr. Martyn Obbard, a research scientist with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and an adjunct professor in the Environmental and Life Sciences graduate program at Trent University, and Zoocheck launched an online petition last week calling for its closure.

Zoocheck said in the petition, which will be presented to our city council, that it has made several attempts to help the animals, which include Ben the black bear and two African lions, plus an assortment of hoofstock and small animals, at Spruce Haven Zoo.

“Unfortunately,” the petition reads, “Ontario does not regulate zoos or the keeping of exotic wildlife in captivity and, to date, enforcement agencies have been unable to address many of the animal welfare issues at the zoo.

“In addition, they do not have a mandate to deal with public safety, so zoo issues must be addressed by the City of Sault Ste. Marie. Just a short while ago, the city took the step of directing staff to prepare a bylaw banning zoos in the municipality.

“To help with this situation, Zoocheck has offered to relocate the Spruce Haven animals to sanctuaries at no cost to the city or the zoo, so that the animals can live out the remainder of their lives in better, more enhanced conditions.

“Spruce Haven Zoo has had many years to improve conditions for Ben and the other animals, but there is little evidence that meaningful improvements have been made for many of them. In this time of heightened concern for the welfare of animals, this situation should not be allowed to continue.

“Therefore we the undersigned urge the Mayor and Members of Sault Ste. Marie City Council to move forward with the proposed prohibition on zoos as soon as possible.

“The petition had 7,026 signatories as I was sitting down to write this on Thursday.

It doesn’t have mine.

I will speak my piece here, following a practice I established long ago of commenting on an issue rather than signing a petition.

In regard to this issue, I am totally in line with anyone or any organization seeking the closure of Spruce Haven Zoo.

I visited the Zoo with grandchildren more than 20 years ago and although I wasn’t impressed with what I saw, I didn’t campaign against it as I did the zoo at Bellevue Park.

My mistake.

However, I hope to make amends for that oversight here, suggesting that council move in that direction when the petition recommending closure comes before it, accompanied I would hope, by a staff report recommending the same.

There should be no grandfathering of the Spruce Haven Zoo. That would only be maintaining what it is obvious so many people, the welfare of the animals their priority, are against.

Ward 3 Coun. Judy Hupponen has been pushing for a bylaw prohibiting zoos in Sault Ste. Marie.

“I truly believe that we must do something to remove the animals at Spruce Haven,” she said in an email. “I’m going to assist in any way I can as a city representative.”

The majority of comments Zoocheck is getting from Sault residents favour the closure of the zoo, citing the small enclosures and conditions in which the animals live.

Ben the black bear, for instance, can be seen in a video pacing back and forth in a small cage, something he reportedly has done for more than 20 years.

Yet there are some who favour keeping the zoo in existence. One even suggested the closure of the Bellevue Park Zoo was a loss for the city.

And Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) has entered the fray on the side of Marshall and the zoo.

Dr. Susan Shafer of CAZA said in a letter to The Sault Star that:

“We urge council to guarantee that there is a fair and formal consultation process that ensures all considerations for the health and well-being of the animals in question and the surrounding public’s safety are deliberated and measured response be imposed.”

In an interview with Elaine Della-Mattia of The Star, Shafer said creating a bylaw is a dangerous precedent and a bylaw eliminating zoos is not always in the best interest of the animals.

I think anyone who goes online and sees the pens in which animals like Ben the Bear have to live will be able to quickly make up their minds as to the worthiness of the zoo and whether it is in the animals’ best interest to keep it.

In his report Obbard said two female lions were housed in an enclosure not large enough to provide adequate opportunity for movement and exercise. No enrichment was observed.

He said a single cougar was housed in an enclosure without a private area to provide relief from being in public view. The substrate of the enclosure was hard-packed soil, with a few branches on the ground seeming to be what was provided for enrichment.

He said the enclosure housing Ben, the black bear, also was too small to provide adequate opportunity for movement and exercise. There was no material provided that a bear could use to make a soft day bed which is what bears usually do spring to fall. There was no reasonable opportunity for a bear to climb or otherwise move normally beyond walking a few steps in one direction or the other.

He said a pair of wolves were housed in a pen much larger than that provided the African lions, cougar and black bear, nevertheless only limited movement for exercise would be possible.

I think most people will get the drift.

We can only hope council does.

You can help in that by signing the online petition.


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