'We can’t afford to operate:' Bowmanville Zoo closing its doors for good
Codi Wilson, CP24.com
Published Thursday, June 23, 2016 1:20PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 23, 2016 5:42PM EDT
The Bowmanville Zoo says financial hardships due to poor attendance has forced it to close its doors for good at the end of the 2016 season.
The zoo, which made headlines earlier this year when animal cruelty charges were laid against its owner Michael Hackenberger, made the announcement at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
"The decision was really made only a few days ago when it became apparent that financially we couldn’t continue," Angus Carroll, the zoo's director of communications and community outreach, told reporters Thursday.
“All options that we had have been exhausted."
The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says it began investigating the alleged abuse at the zoo after a video surfaced that appeared to show Hackenberger repeatedly whip a tiger during a training session.
The video was released by animal activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in December.
Hackenberger has denied that he ever struck the tiger and says that in the video, he was simply striking the ground and air beside the tiger.
“Michael believes he is innocent of any charges and so do we all here at the zoo,” Carroll said.
Carroll added the fallout from the charges and PETA’s campaign against the zoo has resulted in significant financial troubles.
”People are staying away in droves and we can’t afford to operate the zoo," he said.
"The sort of campaign that has sort of been carried on against the zoo by PETA is very effective...It is hard to fight a machine like the PETA PR machine. We’ve been run over by a bus.”
The zoo, which credits itself as the oldest private zoo in North American, has operated since 1919, according to its website.
“A lot of our handlers and keepers are very attached to the animals and they are very sad,” Carroll noted.
He said that they are continuing to try to find homes for all the animals but added that the process could take time.
“We believe we will find homes for all the animals.”
PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in an email that the zoo is an "animal prison" that "not only should close but also never should have been opened in the first place."
She called Hackenberger "a bully" and suggested the zoo grounds could be replaced with condominiums.