(for more detailed information about GuZoo, please visit the website of the Council of Concerned Albertans for Animal Welfare and Public Safety – CCAAWPS - http://ccaawps.ca/)
Notorious GuZoo Finally Closed!
“Owners of GuZoo in Three Hills say controversial animal park will never re-open”, was the headline of an article appearing in the Calgary Sun on Thursday, April 30, 2015. These are words we doubted that we would ever hear. It’s been a decades-long struggle, but we are happy to finally see the doors close on this shameful chapter of Alberta’s history.
Countless reports, articles, opinion pieces and letters have been written and too many organizations and people to name have worked to get this ramshackle menagerie shut down. Incredibly, it took Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) 25 years to enforce their own laws and finally deny Guzoo its 2015 annual permit.
A quick stroll through GuZoo was usually enough for people to leave feeling disgusted and sick at heart after witnessing the conditions its animals had to endure. An inspection report written for Zoocheck Canada and Voice for Animals by Dr. John Knight (Veterinarian and Zoo and Wildlife Management Consultant) describes Guzoo “… as an unsafe, shoddy, filthy place…” and states that “The state of hygiene within the premises was appalling, posing significant risk to animals, staff and visitors to the ‘zoo’”. He concludes that, “Guzoo has a Decommissioning Plan and it should be put into action.”
Despite GuZoo consistently failing to meet the requirements set out in the Alberta Zoo Standards, ESRD continued to issue them annual permits. This led Voice for Animals and Zoocheck Canada to launch a judicial review of Guzoo’s 2014 zoo permit. We believe this and constant pressure from the public finally forced the ESRD to act.
Although Zoocheck Canada and Voice for Animals Humane Society repeatedly offered their assistance in finding new homes for its animals in reputable sanctuaries, Guzoo refused to accept help. Unfortunately, we have limited knowledge of the fate of the animals that the Guzoo was ordered to get rid of. Though a bittersweet victory, some comfort can be found in the fact that this nightmare has finally come to an end, and hopefully this has set a precedent that will force other Alberta facilities to re-examine their practices.
For their tireless and courageous work to shut down Guzoo we would like to thank Devon McDonald and Philip Shaw, as well as the members of the Council of Concerned Albertans for Animal Welfare and Public Safety (CCAAWPS).
A Brief History and Noted Violations
Owned and operated by the Gustafson Family, GuZoo Animal Farm - also know as of Kneehill Animal Control and Rehabilitation Center Ltd. - began operations with a few animals in 1987, with game bird farm and federal migrating permits, as well as a fur farm license. After being charged with illegal possession of wild and exotic animals, the Gustafsons decided that they might as well just apply for a zoo permit. Their application was approved by the Alberta government, and GuZoo was officially in business at the end of 1989.
Over the next few years, it became increasingly obvious that Gustafson was not up for the task of running a zoo. He was again convicted of trafficking and illegal possession of wild and exotic animals, and was also charged under the Animal Protection Act for failing to relieve the stress of a zoo animal. The Alberta SPCA released several statements about the substandard conditions of the zoo, and called for it to be de-commissioned in 1993. Other organizations (such as Alberta Environment Protection) and governmental bodies (such as Fish & Wildlife) also filed reports of animal neglect, inappropriate enclosures, filthy conditions, and public health and safety concerns. Animals escaped. There was much talk about the need for improved legislation to hold Gustafson accountable for his facility’s shortcomings, and to put in place standards that must be met in order for him to continue operating.
In 1999, Fish & Wildlife established a multi-agency task-force to inspect GuZoo. Many deficiencies were noted, and Gustafson was told to address them. But once again, he didn’t.
Over the next 5 years, it was more of the same. National animal welfare organizations (including Zoocheck Canada and WSPA) got involved, and hired outside experts to assess GuZoo. Inspections were done, and reports were written, always noting the same horrible conditions. Permit conditions were not being met. The government began granting GuZoo “temporary permits”, but continued to re-issue them despite the constant violations. All the while, Zoocheck and WSPA were meeting with government officials, and filing formal complaints.
Finally, in 2005, the Government of Alberta finalized standards for zoos within the province.
The Government of Alberta Standards for Zoos within Alberta came into effect on April 1, 2006 and zoos had until October 1, 2006 to comply. In the summer of 2007, WSPA and Zoocheck Canada visited Guzoo once again and drafted a 15 page review based on the new zoo standards. They noted 100 individual violations of the standards, and one permit violation. This same year, a tiger who was admittedly born at the GuZoo and purchased by Kim Carlton in BC, killed Carlton’s fiancée in front of her horrified children. In early 2011, graphic images of the horrific conditions at GuZoo (such as the one to the left) were published in the Edmonton Examiner, prompting a massive public outcry.
Eager to appease the public, the SRD began a formal investigation and granted GuZoo a temporary 60 day permit. The ASPCA, Alberta Agriculture, and the SRD were all involved at this point, and chose to commission the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) to perform their own inspection (costing taxpayers $15,000). The report concluded the same things that Zoocheck Canada and WSPA had been stating for years: that “deficiencies were found in all aspects of operation". It was determined unfeasible for the owners to bring GuZoo up to standard, and a decommissioning was finally ordered. Gustafson fought back, and sought a judicial review. After a long, secretive trial, the government caved, and GuZoo’s permit was fully restored. In the years following, dozens of videos were released, documenting worse conditions than ever before. Filthy enclosures, animal neglect, improper habitats, lack of enrichment, and public health and safety concerns, were still documented every time someone visited the zoo. Click here to view a graphic video taken by a whistleblower at GuZoo in July 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOyIWIJRHpY