GENEVA, Switzerland––The World Association of Zoos & Aquariums governing council on April 22, 2015 announced that it had voted unanimously to suspend the membership of the Japanese Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
Calling itself WAZA for short, but “The WA-Zoo” to critics, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums is officially “the unifying representative of the global zoo and aquarium community,” working “in partnership with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, national governments and non-governmental organizations” to “harmonize the principles, policies, practices and strategy of over 1,300 leading zoos and aquariums” on matters including species conservation and animal welfare.
“Could not reach agreement” on dolphin captures
JAZA membership was suspended, the announcement said, “after WAZA and JAZA could not reach agreement on issues involving JAZA member zoos and aquariums taking dolphins from the Japanese drive fishery,” meaning specifically the practice of herding dolphins into shallow water to be killed, as shown in the 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary film The Cove.
“WAZA requires all members to adhere to policies that prohibit participating in cruel and non-selective methods of taking animals from the wild,” the WAZA announcement continued. “WAZA has attempted to work collaboratively with JAZA and its members to stop the collection of animals from the Taiji drive fisheries. Annually the drives draw international attention and criticism for the killing of dolphins. WAZA has previously joined other organizations in speaking out against the practice.”
Specifically, the WAZA announcement said, “WAZA proposed that JAZA enforce a two-year moratorium on taking animals from the drive by its members. The moratorium was rejected by JAZA. The issue was discussed again at WAZA’s international conference in November with a goal to influence change in JAZA’s position on members accepting animals from the drive fisheries.
“JAZA has violated Code of Ethics”
“JAZA responded,” WAZA said, “by proposing some restrictions on the method of capturing dolphins and improving animal care. Because it did not restrict taking animals from the drive,” the WAZA governing council “voted to suspend the Japanese association’s membership,” based on “ a determination that JAZA has violated the WAZA Code of Ethics & Animal Welfare.”
In addition, the WAZA governing council “re-affirmed its position that members of WAZA must confirm that they will not acquire dolphins from the Taiji fishery,” the announcement said.
Ric O’Barry praises action
Commented longtime dolphin defender and opponent of the Taiji slaughter Ric O’Barry, “Now that JAZA has finally been suspended, JAZA is isolated from its own industry making it more difficult for it to continue to conduct these violent captures. The industry will be reduced to renegades if they continue to traffic in dolphins. Their credibility with their peers has been destroyed. It’s a good day for dolphins. We congratulate and applaud the WAZA council for doing the right thing. We would also like to thank our Japanese colleagues for their tremendous efforts. This is a big win for all wild dolphins swimming past the shores of Taiji, Japan.”
O’Barry and Sakae Hemmi, who has for nearly 30 years opposed the Taiji dolphin killings as founder of the Japanese conservation group ELSA Nature Conservancy, in 2014 appealed to WAZA executive director Gerald Dick to suspend JAZA from membership. O’Barry later led two protests against the Taiji killings and captures outside the WAZA headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
Australians sued WAZA
The organization Australia for Dolphins meanwhile sued WAZA in Geneva for alleged failure to enforce the WAZA code of ethics.
“I’ve observed the hunts and seen dolphins being hit by propellers, hit by boats, flung onto the rocks––they are horrific,” Australia for Dolphins director Sarah Lucas told Oliver Milman and Justin McCurry of The Guardian.
“Most zoos and aquariums around the world have no idea how WAZA conducts itself behind closed doors,” Lucas alleged.
At least 37 JAZA member aquariums are believed to have purchased dolphins from Taiji.
Wrote Milman and McCurry, “WAZA has previously said the dolphin hunts were part of a Japanese cultural tradition stretching back ‘centuries,’ but wildlife campaigners insist records in Taiji show that the first large-scale hunts started in 1969,” only nine years before they were first exposed by U.S. filmmaker Hardy Jones, “and have been primarily driven by the desire to capture animals for exhibit, rather than for meat. The capture of dolphins is said to have doubled in the past 10 years.
A fully trained dolphin on public display can be worth more than $100,000, compared with as little as $100 if butchered for meat.
“Anti-hunt campaigners say the market for captured dolphins in China is growing rapidly,” Milman and McCurry summarized. “Over the past five years, observers say, more than 5,000 dolphins have been killed at Taiji, with a further 750 captured for aquariums.”
“We feel horrible”
Pressure to expel JAZA rose from within WAZA after Mats Höggren, director of the Kolmarden Zoo in Sweden, and a member of the European Association of Zoos & Aquaria executive committee, told Milman and McCurry that “We can’t be even indirectly associated,” with the Taiji dolphin killings and captures.
“We feel horrible about what’s happening over there and we need to put pressure on WAZA to do something,” Höggren said. “We will wait a little longer, but there needs to be something constructive done, or we will terminate our membership, for sure.”
WAZA has historically not aggressively enforced the WAZA Code of Ethics & Animal Welfare.
Recited Milman, “In November 2014, an animal keeper at the Mysore Zoo in India was filmed beating an elephant. Taman Safari in Indonesia runs a travelling dolphin circus in which dolphins are forced to jump through flaming hoops. Tourists are also able to pose with tigers for photos. Zoo Negara in Malaysia has been condemned by a local Member of Parliament for the terrible condition of its animals. Dehiwala Zoo in Sri Lanka has come under fire after the deaths of a hippo, a lion and all the zoo’s penguins. The zoo has also been criticized for an elephant show in which handlers threaten the animals with sticks to make them do tricks. A manacled performing elephant has been filmed at Dusit Zoo in Bangkok, and Almaty zoo in Kazakhstan and the National Taiwan Aquarium have been accused of housing bears and beluga whales, respectively, in sub-standard enclosures. In 2009, a South Korean TV show filmed a small, terrified bear being placed inside a tiger enclosure at Everland Park.”
None of these zoos are known to have been penalized by WAZA for their apparent violations of the WAZA Code of Ethics & Animal Welfare. Everland Park, however, did reportedly apologize for incidents in which a middle-aged female keeper repeatedly entertained visitors by placing a bear cub into cages with animals including lion cubs and a monkey, as shown here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9WXCCzsmTs
Drugs & killings
ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton had a comparably frustrating experience in 2008, after presenting to the WAZA secretariat extensive evidence of alleged drugging of a lion cub and a tiger cub for photos at the Bali Safari & Marine Park, in Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia. See details here: http://www.animals24-7.org/2010/01/24/off-exhibit-secrets-of-troubled-zoos/
In June 2010 WAZA defended Magdeburg Zoo director Kai Parret and three zoo staff members after they were convicted of cruelty for killing three tiger cubs at birth in May 2008 because their father was found to be a hybrid of the Siberian and Sumatran tiger subspecies.
Said the WAZA statement, “In light of the fact that the consumptive and terminal use of both wild and domesticated animals for the purposes of food production and recreation is viewed as being acceptable and reasonable in modern society, this judgment can only be regarded as an act of legal and moral hypocrisy.” See details: http://www.animals24-7.org/2010/08/25/german-zoo-staff-convicted-of-cruelty-for-killing-hybrid-tigers/.
In early 2014 WAZA spokespersons defended several controversial instances of European zoos killing healthy animals to open exhibit spaces, detailed here: http://www.animals24-7.org/2014/03/25/giraffe-killing-in-copenhagen-brings-zoo-culling-to-global-notice/ and at: Steve Graham defends Copenhagen Zoo giraffe killing, http://www.animals24-7.org/2014/03/14/steve-graham-d…iraffe-killing/.)