Ineffective Oversight: New Report Critiques Zoos Self-Regulation Through CAZA

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A new investigative report prepared by Animal Justice shows that Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA)—an industry group that accredits nearly two dozen of Canada’s zoos and aquariums—has significant shortcomings. CAZA is riddled with conflicts of interest, is unaccountable, and lacks transparency—all of which lead to a troubling history of inaction when zoos are exposed for animal neglect or abuse. 

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CAZA’s Shortcomings 

CAZA is a group run by the zoo industry that acts as both a lobby organization for zoo interests, and an accreditation organization that gives a stamp of approval to zoos that it claims have higher standards for animal welfare and public safety. However, Animal Justice’s analysis finds that in reality, CAZA’s accreditation program falls far short of that promise, and is marked by an alarming series of failures. CAZA has struggled to effectively oversee its member facilities, including failing to revoke member accreditation even when troubling conditions and preventable incidents emerge, compromising both animal welfare and public safety.

As an accreditation organization that also advocates for zoo industry interests, CAZA has a structural conflict—revoking accreditation of its zoo members can damage the reputation of the zoo industry, creating a disincentive to take action. CAZA is also reliant on fees from its members, creating another disincentive to revoke accreditation even in the face of non-compliance with standards. These deficiencies all operate to cast doubt on CAZA’s ability to act in the interests of vulnerable animals confined in zoos, rather than the financial or reputational interests of zoos and of CAZA itself. 

Animal Justice’s report shows that on numerous occasions, CAZA zoos have been exposed for troubling animal cruelty and neglect, yet CAZA hasn’t revoked accreditation. This includes:

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  • Bowmanville Zoo whipping a tiger to inflict pain, captured on hidden-camera video
  • An elephant attack and tiger mauling at African Lion Safari in Ontario
  • Giraffes freezing to death at the Mountainview Conservation in BC
  • The Toronto Zoo being convicted under federal migratory bird protection legislation after geese died of heat exposure in a truck that was not climate-controlled
  • Repeated allegations of animal cruelty at Marineland, and years of investigations and charges by authorities

CAZA has also taken troubling anti-science positions over the years that harm animals, including being staunchly in favour of keeping elephants in captivity, supporting whale and dolphin captivity (even as municipal, provincial, and federal governments passed laws outlawing this cruel practice), and refusing to accept that coercing animals into performing for zoo guests harms their welfare. 

CAZA also lacks transparency and public accountability. As a private organization, CAZA is under no obligation to offer public transparency about its accreditation process, problems or deficiencies it might find with zoos, its decision-making process, or any other aspect of its operations. Without transparency, it becomes challenging for members of the public to seek accountability from CAZA for its decisions and standards. 

Urgent Need for Reform

Despite these failures and its low standards, CAZA works to project an image of credibility and reliability, claiming that its accredited zoos deserve legislative recognition. Unfortunately, CAZA has influenced some provincial and municipal governments to exempt CAZA-accredited facilities from laws that would otherwise ban zoos or the keeping of exotic animals in captivity—protecting CAZA zoos from scrutiny and accountability.

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CAZA is currently lobbying at the federal level for its zoos to be included in Bill S-15, an important government Senate bill that would largely outlaw keeping and breeding elephants and great apes in zoos. By being included in Bill S-15, CAZA-accredited facilities would still be allowed to keep these animals—which would gut the legislation.

It’s clear the CAZA accreditation process is not only inadequate to protect animals, but also serves to insulate accredited zoos from legislative oversight. The organization’s repeated failures demand urgent reform. Governments must reconsider any special status granted to CAZA-accredited facilities under legislation, regulation, or policy.

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