In Canada, at the Calgary Zoo, Kali, its resident grey wolf, was featured in a promotional video. The online survey asked the public to vote for Canada’s greatest animal species. People cast over 11,000 people votes, and at the end of the video, Kali flashed onto the screen as the declared winner.
“So exciting,” the presenter said in the video. “Congratulations, Canada. And congratulations, grey wolf.”
Less than a year after this campaign, Calgary Zoo euthanized Kali for a reason some animal welfare advocates are struggling to understand. A zoo employee contacted Zoocheck, a Canadian animal protection organization, and said that the Calgary Zoo killed Kali simply to make room for a group of younger wolves.
“I learned about this just shortly before the animal was euthanized,” Julie Woodyer, campaign director for Zoocheck said. “I guess there was a plan to euthanize her because the zoo had brought in a group of young wolves that they wanted to put on display, and they felt that this animal wouldn’t integrate well, and rather than finding a place to move the animal to, they euthanized it.”
Despite Kali being 14 years old, she was fairly healthy, according to the informant (who asked to stay anonymous for her own protection).
“I’m not aware that the animals had any health issues that would require euthanasia,” Woodyer said. “She had typical age-related ailments — arthritis and joint issues — but nothing that would be considered a prognosis where the animal should be euthanized for its own benefit.”
“The informant said they were euthanizing not because she was too old, but that they wanted to put the young animals on display and they could not integrate her due to her age,” Woodyer added.
Kali was put down before Woodyer had a chance to contact Calgary Zoo herself.
“She didn’t need to die,” Woodyer said. “Those decisions weren’t made in her interest. Essentially, what they’re doing is culling an animal so they can put others on display that are younger, more attractive, perhaps more engaging for the public to see.”
When contacted, a representative said that the zoo had euthanized Kali for welfare reasons.
“The Calgary Zoo places top priority on animal welfare,” Larissa Mark, communications manager for Calgary Zoo said. “As such, all decisions related to animal welfare are taken very seriously, with all possible factors taken into account. When the decision is made to euthanize an animal, it is to relieve suffering, including a compromise of animal welfare that cannot be relieved in any other way.”
The zoo also said that there were “social” issues that made euthanasia the best choice.
“The recent decision to euthanize Kali, our 14-year-old geriatric wolf, was no exception as she had declining age-related health issues, as well as unresolvable social issues for some time,” Mark continued. “She will be missed by our Animal Care team, especially by the zookeepers and veterinary staff that raised her as a young pup and cared for her over the years.”
Mark acknowledged that the zoo had acquired a new group of wolves (who have not yet been put on public display), but denied that they were the reason for Kali’s euthanasia.
Woodyer is having trouble believing the zoo’s explanation. “Most zoos don’t want older animals,” she said. “They’re not as attractive, they’re not as active.”
What the zoo should have done, in Woodyer’s opinion, was move Kali to another enclosure at the zoo, or transfer her to a legitimate sanctuary.
“Before they even brought in the newer wolves, they should have figured out how they were going to deal with this older wolf, and where they could move it to,” Woodyer said. “Perhaps within the zoo, maybe adjacent to the new wolves, or to a new facility like the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado, for instance, that regularly takes in animals in these circumstances.”
Woodyer believes that Kali could have lived for several more years.
“They [captive wolves] can live to 17 years of age,” Woodyer said. “Zoos are always arguing that they provide such amazing care (diet, vet care, etc.) and that the animals are better off in the zoo and live longer, so they can’t now argue that the animal was old.”
This is not the first time Calgary Zoo has come under fire for its treatment of animals.When an otter died after getting tangled up in a pair of pants given to him as an “enrichment item,” as well as seven Humboldt penguins mysteriously drowned, the zoo was investigated. Before that, 41 cownose stingrays died because of a lack of oxygen in their tank, and a hydraulic door crushed a female capybara.
“There’s a long list of problems that have gone on at this zoo,” Woodyer said. “They needed to start prioritizing animal welfare over visitor experience. But it’s obvious with this wolf incident that either they’ve regressed back to the state they were in, or that they never did change.”
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