World-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall is joining forces with Manitoba Sen. Murray Sinclair to press Canada to adopt a more ambitious animal welfare law that would effectively ban keeping great apes and elephants in captivity in this country.
Sinclair is set to introduce a bill in the Red Chamber today that, if passed, would ban zoos and other establishments from acquiring new great apes or elephants unless they’re doing so for welfare or conservation purposes.
The legislation, entitled the Jane Goodall Act, also would ban the use of the two species for entertainment, including elephant rides.
There are 33 great apes in captivity in Canada — 9 chimpanzees, 18 gorillas and six orangutans — according to figures compiled by Sinclair. More than 20 elephants live in captivity in Canada; 16 of them are at the Ontario-based African Lion Safari, the largest herd in any North American zoological facility.
The tourist attraction, which bills itself as “Canada’s original safari adventure,” uses some of its Asian elephants for entertainment and to ferry people around the 750-acre property. One of African Lion Safari’s elephants attacked a trainer last year, leaving him with non-life threatening injuries.
Twenty years ago, they wouldn’t have had a hope in hell of passing anything like this bill.– Primatologist Jane Goodall
The Valley Zoo in Edmonton also has come under fire over its handling of Lucy, an ailing 44-year-old elephant.
“They are big animals and they are also incredibly intelligent,” Goodall told CBC News.
“I gather that in Canada they actually use them for entertainment and giving tourists rides. That’s very insulting, really, very demeaning to their role in our lives.”
Goodall said that when she started her work among the chimpanzees of Africa decades ago, little was known about their human-like intellect.
She said her professors at the University of Cambridge actively discouraged her from studying the biological similarities between chimps and humans or advancing the idea that these animals have their own personalities and emotions. She said she was criticized for giving names to the chimps she studied.
“I’ve been working since the 1960s for people to understand the true nature of animals, that they have beings and that they’re not here for us to use and abuse. Now that we know so much more, gradually things are changing, but we’re still disrespecting animals,” she said.
“As humans around the world accept that animals are sentient beings, there is a growing call for improved living conditions and treatment of captive animals. I would say [that] 20 years ago, they wouldn’t have had a hope in hell of passing anything like this bill.”
While Goodall has always been an advocate for the rights of chimps in captivity, she said the pandemic’s restrictions on her movement (she’s been holed up at a family home in England for months) have given her a deeper understanding of what some of these animals are forced to endure.
Goodall said confining these creatures to cages or small enclosures amounts to torture. She said that while some modern zoos have adapted their practices to give wild animals more hospitable living environments, there are still too many shoddy operations housing animals in substandard conditions.
“You don’t learn anything about them in that environment,” Sinclair said. “There are some beneficial purposes to zoos that we can’t and shouldn’t try to eliminate, but merely to capture the animal and keep them from enjoying life in the wild, in their natural habitats, for entertainment purposes is not a good reason to allow this to continue to happen.”
The bill would amend the Criminal Code to make it a federal offence to own a great ape or an elephant, or to breed these animals — with some limited exceptions for those pursuing “non-harmful scientific research” and for cases where an animal’s welfare is in question. Zoos and other places would be able to keep their current stocks of these animals.
The bill also would amend existing federal wild animal protection laws to create a licensing regime for those looking to import these animals or move them across provincial borders.
Sinclair’s bill also would close a gap in existing legislation that allows for the importation of elephant ivory and hunting “trophies.”
The bill would forbid the importing or exporting of any items composed of elephant ivory and items “consisting of any elephant part,” with some very limited exceptions.
The government currently bans the sale of ivory from elephants killed after 1990 — but ivory is difficult to date and illegal supplies easily enter the Canadian market, Sinclair said.
Between 2007 and 2016, Canada allowed imports of 400 elephant skulls and 260 elephant feet, according to data supplied by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Last year, Goodall urged countries around the world to clamp down on the practice, which has hollowed out the population of these “wise, gentle giants” in sub-Saharan Africa.
In 1930, as many as 10 million elephants inhabited the continent. Today, there are only some 400,000 left. This dramatic decline, Goodall said, is due to ivory poaching by criminal cartels.
‘How can anybody do that?’
“I have struggled and struggled to understand how anybody could go out and see this beautiful animal and do this,” she said. “I’m thinking, ‘You are twisted. You’re crazy.’ It’s so awful how we treat animals.
“Elephants, particularly, are so amazingly majestic, but so are lions and tigers and rhinos. I’ve met them, I know them, I’ve been with them in the wild. How can anybody do that?”
She said other countries, such as China and the United Kingdom, already have banned the trade in ivory and Canada, as a “purportedly civilized, democratic country,” should follow suit by passing Sinclair’s bill.
Sinclair ushered through a similar piece of legislation last year that banned whale and dolphin captivity at parks like MarineLand in Niagara Falls, Ont.
He said he’s determined to save wildlife because of his grounding in traditional Indigenous knowledge about the role animals play in a well-functioning society.
“The killing of animals for recreational purposes has always been an area with which I totally disagree,” Sinclair said.
“I don’t agree with trophy hunting. I don’t agree with recreational hunting. People who kill animals for sport, I think, are misguided in terms of their relationship with animals.”
Beyond the Criminal Code changes and new licensing provisions for great apes and elephants, Sinclair’s bill also would, through regulatory changes, give Ottawa the power to crack down on the private possession of big cats such as lions and tigers — to “prevent the kind of shameful exploitation seen in Tiger King.”
Sinclair said he was inspired to add this clause after watching that Netflix documentary film, which profiled the seedy underworld of for-profit petting zoos in the U.S.
He said hundreds of these cats are being held in captivity in Canada. “It really floored me, you know,” he said. “I thought it was just an American southern U.S. state issue.
“But no, it’s in Canada. Cat owners like those should be prohibited.”