WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES
Animal rights activists are demanding the Alberta government reopen its investigation into the controversial roadside GuZoo after new footage and photos have surfaced depicting what it claims are poor living standards and safety hazards for exotic animals housed on site.
The nearly 10-minute video shows what appears to be filth in numerous birdcages and fridges, maggots crawling in a bowl of food set next to a baby lynx and other domestic cats, and at least four animal carcasses scattered outdoors among piles of other garbage.
Metro obtained the photos from the Council of Concerned Albertans for Animal Welfare and Public Safety.
“I’m horrified,” said Lexci Johnston, council vice-president. “You don’t have to be an animal lover to look at baby animals in the care of able-bodied humans being presented maggots. That baby lynx is what they hand out to kids to take pictures with, meanwhile that thing’s got a belly full of parasites.”
GuZoo, located near Three Hills, Alta., previously came under fire in 2011 after photos of public areas that many deemed sub-standard sparked a viral social media campaign calling for its immediate closure.
Reached Sunday, owner Lynn Gustafson confirmed the video was taken by what he suspects was a trespasser over the Canada Day long weekend. He also conceded there were maggots in the cat food and carcasses on the trash piles but chalked it up to everyday operations on a farm that’s home to nearly 400 domestic and exotic animals.
“It’s all bulls–t,” Gustafson said, adding he suspects a visit from SPCA officials Friday was linked to the footage. “You can make anything you want out of it. I could go to your house and find something that’s wrong probably.”
Gustafson said the maggots in the cat cage swarmed after he accidentally left some food in there overnight, adding, “That wasn’t what they were eating anyway.”
As for the carcasses, Gustafson claims he was going to burn them but the weather was too damp and they were kept well away from public areas.
The council said it was sent the photos — 200 of them in total — and video from an anonymous whistleblower, whose identity they are not sure of.
But Johnston said the evidence is damning regardless and added, in her opinion, the footage clearly shows animals roaming metres from the trash piles.
“We want the public to know that this is not safe,” she said. “It’s not about taking business away from a business owner so much as it is protecting the well being of animals in our care and our families that go to these facilities.”
GuZoo did lose its licence for a month in 2011 as the province dealt with a firestorm of criticism. Even when it reopened, the province slapped numerous sanctions on the facility that Gustafson claimed were aimed at destroying his business, which first opened in 1990. Zoo employees have claimed the site is more “organic” than a typical one, allowing kids up close to pet animals like a lion and an emu named Mike.
In October, the province renewed GuZoo’s operating permit with stricter operating conditions.
Gustafson, meanwhile, said he’s called on the Three Hills RCMP to investigate the video and photos along with three other break-in and vandalism incidents in the last two months alone. In May, employees claim someone cut holes in a number of fences, setting free donkeys, buffalo, coyotes and an emu.
“I’m sick and tired of it . . . it gets to the point where you feel violated,” Gustafson said.
Metro did reach a member of the Three Hills RCMP Sunday afternoon who confirmed the investigation into the fence-cutting but said he had not been made aware of the apparent trespassing. He said, however, there were other members not working Sunday who may know more.