Cruelty investigation at Cinemazoo can only be a good thing
By Peter Fricker
News that the BC SPCA and the Ministry of the Environment are conducting a cruelty investigation into Cinemazoo, the Surrey-based animal rental agency, is a welcome development for animal welfare in B.C.
Cinemazoo, as discussed previously on this blog, is a commercial business that rents out exotic animals for film and television work, corporate entertainment and birthday parties. In short, it exists to exploit animals for profit.
Yet somehow, Cinemazoo was able to establish a registered charity called The Urban Safari Rescue Society to increase revenue for its activities. The society’s mission statement says that one of its goals is to “breed endangered species in our care, for release into their natural habitats on protected reserves or conservation parks.”
Endangered species breeding is a highly regulated activity. Professional Species Survival Plans (SSPs) are located only at reputable, accredited zoos, and use only registered breeding stock which has been verified to be healthy, physically and genetically. Rescued pets or animals from the exotic pet trade would not qualify, as their genetic history cannot be verified. This is to avoid breeding and releasing animals with genetic mutations, disease or problems from inbreeding.
So how much genuine conservation work has Cinemazoo or Urban Safari Rescue really been doing? How many endangered species have been successfully bred and released into the wild or into conservation parks? Potential donors might want to ask, as should the Canada Revenue Agency, which registered charities in Canada. The public should be wary of any organization that makes money from captive exotic animals.
In 2009, Cinemazoo was unable to pay its rent at a property in Cloverdale (before moving to its current location in south Surrey) and successfully launched a public appeal for funding. Now Cinemazoo’s owner, Gary Oliver, is saying that he was “overwhelmed” by the difficulty of moving to the new facility. Does this sound like the kind of stable, professional organization necessary to care for hundreds of exotic animals?
It’s high time these previously unregulated animal rental agencies (of which there are several in B.C.*) came under the scrutiny of the Ministry of the Environment. It is encouraging that the MOE has joined with the BC SPCA in investigating Cinemazoo. It appears the ministry is taking its responsibilities under the new Controlled Alien Species Regulations seriously.
The bottom line in all this is the fact that exotic animals suffer in captivity. Unless there is a genuine conservation reason for keeping them, it is unacceptable to keep these species in cages, tanks or pens. The film and television industries can now use computer generated imagery (CGI) instead of animals in their work. Captive animal businesses will always claim they provide an “educational” experience, but displaying a few reptiles at parties, shopping malls or schools will never educate anyone about how these animals really live in their natural environments. In any case, once the “show” is over, it’s back to their cages until the next booking for these unfortunate captives.
Whatever happens as a result of the investigation into Cinemazoo, it can only be a good thing if its days are numbered and animal rental agencies become a thing of the past.
*Other B.C. animal agencies include: Action Animals, The Fright Stuff and Animal Insight.
Keeping exotic animals for fun(draising) and profit
By Peter Fricker
Just before the end of 2009, local media reported on the “plight” of a company called Cinemazoo Animal Agency Ltd., which was facing eviction from its premises in Whalley. Cinemazoo’s owner reportedly had run out of money and was unable to pay rent owed on the facility, which holds about 300 exotic animals ranging from large alligators to a 100-year-old snapping turtle. Cinemazoo made an appeal for help from the public and it was not long before sympathetic newspaper readers responded with donations, thus staving off the eviction.
But is this the worthy cause that some animal lovers might imagine?
Since 1988 Cinemazoo has been a commercial business that makes profits by renting out its animals for use in TV commercials, films, corporate events and birthday parties. In 2007, it set up an organization called The Urban Safari Rescue Society, which is a registered charity. You can click a button on Cinemazoo’s website to make a donation and it will take you directly to the Urban Safari Rescue website.
Meanwhile, Cinemazoo continues to rent out animals for TV, film and advertising work and use them in “educational” presentations. Its commercial customers include Telus, Fido, McDonald’s and other corporate clients who have paid to use the company’s captive animals to help sell their products. Animals can be supplied to birthday parties for about $200 and schools are also charged for educational presentations. But apparently, these revenue streams are not enough to provide Cinemazoo with enough money to pay the rent.
The Urban Safari Rescue Society’s mission statement says that one of its goals is to “breed endangered species in our care, for release into their natural habitats on protected reserves or conservation parks.” Endangered species breeding is a highly regulated activity. Professional Species Survival Plans (SSPs) are located only at reputable, accredited zoos, and use only registered breeding stock which has been verified to be healthy, physically and genetically. Rescued pets or animals from the exotic pet trade would not qualify, as their genetic history cannot be verified. This is to avoid breeding and releasing animals with genetic mutations, disease or problems from inbreeding.
Cinemazoo, with only 4000 square feet of urban space and not even enough money in reserve to pay a month’s rent, seems an unlikely facility for successful endangered species breeding.
There are some serious questions here: What is the difference between Cinemazoo and its charitable arm, The Urban Safari Rescue Society? Their activities seem to be funded by both charitable donations and commercial fees. Is charitable income (donations) being earmarked for charitable activities such as endangered species work? Has the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) checked on how many endangered species Cinemazoo has successfully returned to the wild?
For 22 years Cinemazoo has used animals to make money. Now that those animals are at risk, is Cinemazoo using the public’s sympathy for animals to bail itself out of a financial mess?
Situations like this can only arise because we still allow people to exploit exotic animals for money. The B.C. Ministry of the Environment has introduced new regulations for captive exotic animal facilities that will require companies like Cinemazoo to have a permit by April 1, 2010. How can an unstable outfit that can’t even pay its rent qualify as fit to keep 300 animals safely and humanely? The ministry should inspect Cinemazoo’s operation thoroughly.
If Cinemazoo and other animal exploitation agencies (there are several in B.C.) go out of business, what happens to the animals? The environment ministry and BC SPCA have no facilities to keep exotic species. Most likely a hodge-podge of zoos, pet traders and private collectors will gather round to pick through the most valuable animals, which will then be hauled off to live in a new set of cages and tanks elsewhere. The unwanted remainder will face euthanization.
That’s what happens when animals are treated as mere commodities, exploited to make profits. Businesses that make money off animals may be successful or they may go bust, but the animals will always pay the price.