Bowmanville Zoo, 6 reasons why you stay away from this zoo..

lion_tackles_woman_video.jpgI've been meaning to write this post for sometime now. As someone that takes an active interest in animals and animal rights, Bowmanville Zoo seems to be an organization that I keep reading about for the wrong reasons. Before you read further, you should know that I'm not an "anti-zoo" person. I believe that zoos can encourage respect of our natural world and improve our understanding of our place within this world. At a time when certain species of animals are disappearing every day, zoos may represent the last hope for many critically endangered species.

While researching another post about animal cruelty, I started to realize a very disturbing pattern with regards to the Bowmanville Zoo. The Bowmanville Zoo has been cited on numerous occasions for animal abuse; these are claims that Bowmanville Zoo officials continually deny. At some point, you have to wonder if there is any truth to the allegations.

Here are six issues I have with the Bowmanville Zoo:

bowmanville-elephant-abuse-children.jpg- I spoke to one very experienced administrator within an established zoo in North America (who would rather remain unnamed for the purposes of this post) who indicated to me that he wouldn't allow his children within two miles of the popular "elephant trek" at the Bowmanville Zoo. Elephants that are abused are like ticking time bombs. At the best of times, Elephants are unpredictable and dangerous animals that injure and kill many trainers every year. As recently as 2002, an elephant loaned to the Assiniboine Park Zoo by the Bowmanville Zoo injured one of the trainers there. If a trainer can't predict the actions of an elephant, how can you or your child?

- Bowmanville is a private zoo which in my opinion amounts to a guy and some poorly trained staff taking care of wild animals. Private zoos don't adhere to the same standards as public zoos such as the Toronto Zoo. It is also a well known fact that the staff at Bowmanville Zoo aren't trained to the same standard that many public zoo employees are.

- The Bowmanville Zoo consistently receives a failing grade from the the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and is considered to be a poorly run zoo. Issues such as insuffiient room too excercise, inadequate facilities for some of their animals and other issues highlight the main problems at the privately held zoo.

- In a recent incident that received world wide attention. One Bowmanville Zoo lion was kicked in the head during a photo-shoot for a popular magazine cover. Instead of assigning qualified trainers to oversee the lion, the Bowmanville Zoo assigned lower level zoo keepers. As you can see in the video within this post, the outcome was disastrous. The lady (Gitanjali Kolanad) suffered four broken ribs as a result of the incident and it could have been a lot worse.

- It is no secret that one of the co-owners (Michael Hackenberger) of this zoo is verbally abusive to his employees, he's also physically abusive to the animals. Unhappy animals tend to be unpredictable animals.

- Other zoos are reluctant to transfer animals to the Bowmanville Zoo due to allegations of abuse within their facility. If established zoos won't send their animals to Bowmanville Zoo, why would you let your children visit this kind of facility?

Truly, the only reason why the Bowmanville Zoo is allowed to stay open is because it's a privately held zoo. The Toronto Zoo is a public zoo which means that they are held to a much higher standard than a private zoo. The reality is that an animal in Toronto Zoo lives a happier life due to better facilities and better care. In my opinion, there should be provincial and federal laws that hold zoos like The Bowmanville Zoo to a higher standard. A lion living in the Bowmanville Zoo is entitled the same quality of life as a lion in The Toronto Zoo. As of today, that is not the case.

As one of Canada's oldest zoos, the Bowmanville Zoo also represents what is one of the most inadequate zoos for animals in North America. You can take your family there but what are the odds of something going horribly wrong? Do you and your family a favour and take them to a publicly funded zoo like the Toronto Zoo that abides by international and national standards. Visiting a zoo like the Bowmanville Zoo only supports the continued abuse of their animals and more importantly puts you and your family in harm's way.

note: for those that are interested, feel free to download the Kiru Elephants in Captivity Report here. The report details some of the many issues that still exist within the Bowmanville Zoo with regards to their elephants.

Other posts I think you might be into:

Woman gets tackled by a lion at a Photoshoot!

12 cats that will be extinct by 2020

See a 400 lbs African Lion hug and kiss his rescuer!

Blending Cats Into One Household


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Roberta-Bobbi said:

I am very sad to read this and hope that what you wrote was not said to discredit Michael and Bowmenville. Perhaps your account was based on a series of misconception? The failing reports I am sad to say anyone can set standards. Bowmanville is a private zoo and the facilities may not be the best that could be made. I have never been to the zoo. Yet for two years had the pleasure to meet and chat with Michael. In 92-93 and I think 94 he came to the Ottawa Ex. He was trying to raise funds for better homes at the zoo. He brought Tony and my mom and I watched Michael show us what an elephant could do. He said not for our entertainment but to show us their abilities. He explained the ivory trade and how these are circus elephants who call the zoo home. I cried alot that day. Later as they were closing my mom and I asked to watch the elephants a bit. We watched with the lights turned off Michael washing them down and laying on them rubbing their bellies and talking to them baby talk. Wish now I had a camera.

wendell said:

Hi Roberta. Thanks for the kind comments. I take the accusations in this post very seriously. I was able to verify every single point within this post with numerous sources. Looks can be deceiving. While Michael may have been nice to you and your mother, he's not consistently nice to his employees or his animals.

The elephant accident in Manitoba, the failing WSPA grades, the zoo administrators that won't touch him or his zoo with a ten foot pole, the zoo administrator that personally told me that the Bowmanville Zoo is a ticking time bomb and so much more is all true.

Trust me, I had former employees lining up to give their account of Michael's actions at the zoo. While some may be disgruntled employees, you have to wonder if they're all lying. It turns out, I didn't need their input for this post but it was nice to know that there is a reason why there is so much controversy surrounding this zoo.

I'm actually working on a second post with regards to Bowmanville Zoo. It should be posted relatively soon.

Thanks again.

Karen said:

I am appalled at your comments regarding Bowmanville Zoo and Michael Hackenberger. As a child growing up in the community, and an animal lover, I attended Bowmanville Zoo on numerous occasions. The Zoo improved greatly when Michael took over.

I also grew up 4 houses away from one of the staff who handle the cats and the elephants. He has been there for many years and has great experience. This gentleman is and always was an animal lover and not cruel in any way to animals.

My aunt had property adjoining the back of the zoo property where the elephants were often taken for walks. She thoroughly enjoyed watching this site on a regular basis. Being an animal lover, she would not tolerate cruelty, nor did she ever witness any cruelty.

Michael can stand proudly with all the animals that he has tame enough to use for movie sets....why? Because they are so well cared for and loved, that they are tame enough to be taken to these places. You fail to post the photos of he and his cat, Bongo, that was used on many movie sets. Do you really think that a vet would tolerate a husband who mistreats animals?

I can only think that if someone had difficulty with one of his aniamls shipped to another zoo that they must take a look at the new handler!

Myself, I promote this zoo and believe that there must be some jealousy to instigate posting such negative text. It's too bad you must stoop to this level.

wendell said:

Thanks for your post Karen. To be clear. I have no reason to be jealous of the Bowmanville Zoo. I'm not in the zoo business and I don't aspire to be.

Your feelings and opinions are important to you but the reality is that your comment does not refute one single point within my post. You simply speak about the people and circumstances that you know which sadly makes you misinformed and perhaps biased towards this subject.

Thirdly, it's a well documented fact that the Bowmanville Zoo is a sub-par zoo. There are no shortage of zoo administrators within the field that will tell you this. As a matter of fact, many zoo administrators have publicly denounced this zoo verbally and in print form. So it's not a surprise that the Bowmanville Zoo consistently fails international ratings based upon zoo quality.

This post was researched carefully with verified objective data, first hand interviews with zoo officials (not part of the Bowmanville Zoo) and former employees of the Bowmanville Zoo. The information in the post isn't based on "feelings" and or "opinions."

As the administrator of this blog, I have a unique perspective. I get to see how people arrive to this blog. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've seen search results like "bowmanville zoo+abuse, bowmanville zoo+animal abuse, bowmanville zoo+abused elephants etc..." that result in individuals reading this very post. The information in this post isn't a big secret Karen.

If you can prove that the information in this post isn't objectively correct, I'll gladly remove the post. My sense it that if you actually take the time to research your information about the Bowmanville Zoo before you speak, you may be unpleasantly surprised with the information that you will discover.

Thanks again for your comments.

Robert said:

While I don't support animal cruelty in any manner, I just have to say...well, we do tend to walk past the poor on the street freezing in the winter, with little to no care for their well being...why are we suddenly all worried about a few animals.

Again, cold callus detachment is a sad by product of capitalism and the market. Because of our system, there is little care for anyone outside our immediate production/consuming family units. And make no mistake, in this dystopia we live in, that's all we are.

While I'm sure there is room for improvement, and if what you say about the owner is true, he could use an anger management course, or perhaps a joint of some sort.

But. that particular zoo has come a long way, when I was a child we could let the bears drink orange pop from a soda machine. It was very interactive, but likely shortened their lives extensively. Things like that are long gone.

I have seen minor injuries on some animals, but from my own Q&A this happens at Toronto too, they just have facilities to hide them away while it heals.

anonymous said:

I do believe the trainer in this video called the lion Leo. I worked for the zoo when that cat was only a cub, along with his brother.
From first hand experience I have seen many things that I wish I could have videotaped, and it is no surprise to me that cat ended up doing what he did. There are many things that go on there behind closed doors, one day I hope all becomes known to the world. I truly felt for the animals and wish I could have done something to help...
"Trainers" at this zoo are all very young.. many have had no experience with exotic animals before beginning there. Which is why this unfortunate incident in particular even had the chance to occur.

Wendell said:

Hi anonymous. Thanks very much for your comments. I've heard so much about the abuse of animals at this facility. I'm sure in time, (hopefully when it's not too late) we'll find out some more unfortunate truths about the Bowmanville Zoo.

I spoke to many former staff members that indicated to me that the conditions at this zoo are sub standard. It's a shame.

Folks, if you're reading this. You can take a stand by not visiting this zoo. When you visit them, you help to support this behavior.

Tammy said:

You accuse others of not having facts, yet your facts are totally unfounded and untrue!! How dare you publicly attack a place that you have never even visited?! You are basing your information on an 'unnamed' source? Wow, that's credible!

I sincerely hope that Bowmanville Zoo and all affiliated with it bring this matter to a civil court. What you have done here, is slander.

I strongly suggest you post the response from Facebook written by Michael. I also strongly suggest that rather than trusting websites and "unnamed" sources you have your proof in writing from the organizations you mentioned. As is public knowledge, they will happily provide any reports they have.

Your attack is a disgrace and I truly hope you are held accountable for it! It's also a disgrace that anyone can get a webpage, because they "love" cats...

Average, non-activist, Canadian said:

Bowmanville Zoo has been accredited as an institutional member of the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) since 1994. This is an organization which provides zoos in Canada with an ever increasingly rigorous set of standards for all aspects of zoo management, ranging from animal husbandry to conservation, research and education. In 1996, Bowmanville Zoo was presented with the Baines Award by CAZA for zoological excellence in education.

Bowmanville Zoo is also currently the only zoological facility in Canada that has an exotic animal veterinarian who resides on zoo grounds.

During their inspection of Bowmanville Zoo, WSPA misidentified two out of the five species in the exhibits which they looked at. WSPA is an animal activist organization with an agenda.

They criticized the wolf exhibit since one of the wolves was limping. Apache is a 14-year-old wolf that has been diagnosed by X-ray with arthritis in his shoulder. Like many older pet dogs, he has been on anti-inflammatories and glucosamine/chondroitin supplements for the last two years, and is carefully monitored by his keepers to ensure his quality of life is maintained.

WSPA gave an automatic audit failure to a tiger exhibit that it said was too small and had no shade. They completely ignored the 2.5-acre "Wild Wood," one of the biggest and most behaviorally enriched large cat enclosures in North America. Additionally, since the big cats of Bowmanville Zoo are leash-trained, they also enjoy the benefits of regular outings beyond the confines of their pens. Bowmanville Zoo was also penalized for the Nilgai (antelope) exhibit since one of the older Nilgai was having difficulty breathing. In retrospect, now knowing the date of the "inspection," we know that this nilgai had been scheduled for humane euthanasia the following morning, since she had stopped responding after six weeks of aggressive therapy for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

WSPA marked down the white-handed gibbon exhibit since our gibbons were not seen brachiating (swinging by their hands around the exhibit). Sandy and Ebony, our gibbon pair, have been together for 43 wonderful years (more than most marriages), and are recognized as one of the longest-lived pair of gibbons in captivity. They are however understandably slowing down due to their geriatric state.

WSPA is a fringe activist group and they don't like animals in captivity.


what are your sources? said:

Upon review it seems your blog is libeling a quality zoo and many of your claims and accusations are without any proof or documentation.

For example,

As far as I know, WSPA has only evaluated The Bowmanville Zoo once. Yet you say they consistently receive a failing grade from WSPA. Do you have a source for this claim? i.e. a link to actual, multiple, WSPA reports.

You also claim "The Bowmanville Zoo has been cited on numerous occasions for animal abuse; these are claims that Bowmanville Zoo officials continually deny". Do you have a source for this? Link some actual animal abuse citations please, as well as the Bowmanville Zoo officials statements.

You claim Michael Hackenberger is verbally abusive to his employees and that he's also physically abusive to the animals at the zoo. Do you have evidence of a single official/credible workplace harassment or complaint filed against Michael for verbal abuse? Do you have evidence of a single official/credible animal abuse case filed against Michael (i.e. police action)?

Grenoble Bechard said:

I used to work at the African Lion Safari in Cambridge where Michael Hackenberger was an employee. He is someone I would not trust with a stuffed animal, let alone a live one. He delights in humilating both animals and staff. In my opinion he is about being the alpha dominating male. Scary.

Marg Wood said:

People should be made aware of the accusations of abuse at the Bowmanville Zoo! I live near there and see bus loads of school children there all the time.
There should be a petition advising people of all the accusations of abuse! Care2 would be a good place to start! Animal advocates need to get involved if this abuse is going on!

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