Crawford Bay Cheetah Owner Responds

Letter to the Editor

October 1st, after waiting more than 2 years I spent 3½ days in a room in Nelson, BC with the BC Environment Appeals Board asking the Director of Wildlife to give us a CAS (Controlled Alien Species) permit to take our two cheetahs to schools so children could see them before the cheetah become extinct sometime around 2024.

This is what I knew and what I learned.

Earl and Robin

An ambassador acts as a bridge between people and the world. When you can see an animal and touch it, it becomes real. The cheetah is an excellent representative of all animals remaining on earth and they were the very first animal to be coined an “Ambassador” because of their enduring relationship between the wild animal population and people. There is no record of a wild cheetah killing or even attacking a human in 4000 years.[1] This is the reason we chose them to help us with our message.

The cheetah will be extinct in the wild sometime in 2024.[2] There are about 6000 left and we are losing them at 1000 per year. 100% of the cause of the extinction of the cheetah can be summed up in one word: Apathy. It could be reversed. These animals are dying because of us. Only one thing will help the cheetah – or any animal – people who care and provide hands on help. “Leaving them in the wild” is not an option.

So humans have scheduled the cheetah for extinction in the wild sometime in 2024. That will leave a worldwide captive population of about 1700 animals in zoos and sanctuaries to carry on the species.[3]

Our two cheetahs, Annie and Robin, came from licensed breeders in Africa and as such under CITES regulations are not considered Appendix 1 animals but rather Appendix 2.[4] They had no effect on the wild population. Sometime in the next year wild cheetahs will move from “Vulnerable” to “Endangered”. As they lose more and more habitat and their remaining areas become fractionalised the cheetah will continue to decrease in numbers. I am afraid that unless they can change their spots for stripes and become Pandas, extinction is coming.

And to see our cheetahs will cost the young people of BC almost nothing, unlike the $16 million dollar Pandas paid for by the Alberta taxpayers. And Annie and Robin will come to them. The Pandas were brought to Calgary to increase tourism. We want Annie and Robin to increase awareness.

It matters what people do. Robin’s father was a cheetah named Byron and was for 15 years the most famous cheetah in Africa. It was estimated he was seen by 150,000 school children in his lifetime.[5] That is important to me because the more people that can see and touch a real animal and know they are more than a picture in a book or a video on TV, the greater the odds more people will help.

If you have young children, the odds of them ever seeing a real cheetah are almost zero. Zoos have stopped keeping this animal among their stock due to their fragile nature, expensive vet bills, and the fact that for good health they need to leave their enclosures every day for proper mental and physical stimulation. As well, cheetahs do not breed easily in captivity; the only cheetah that will breed is a happy one. It must be understood that zoos live in a quicksand of bureaucracy and constant fear of litigation so the vast majority of captive cheetahs live in cages their entire lives. This is a major hurdle as zoos struggle to transform from animal entertainment parks to conservation and educational centers but can’t overcome the major obstacle that will keep zoos from becoming extinct: People don’t want to see animals in cages. There are currently only 2 cheetahs in the western half of Canada, at the Vancouver Zoo.

Cheetahs are both amazing and fragile. They suffer from many genetic conditions that make it a challenge to keep even the captive population from perishing. Specifically, cheetahs suffer from a condition called Amyloidosis.[6] This means there is a protein meant to pass through a cheetah digestive system that instead collects and attaches to various organs eventually causing symptoms such as gastritis (the number 1 killer of captive cheetahs), and renal and organ failure. The most disturbing feature of this disease is that it does not occur in wild populations. It is only found in captive cheetahs. Keeping a cheetah alive and happy (both of which are necessary to keep the protein from collecting) is a monumental commitment both in time and money. Different cats develop different levels of this disease but all captive cheetahs have it to some degree. The important part is to keep them active and happy. Keeping a cheetah happy and fit requires lots of work and time, which Annie and Robin get. If cheetahs become extinct in the wild, keeping the captive population happy and healthy needs to become a major priority, remembering that this may be the population that keeps the cheetah from total extinction.

I am often asked how cheetahs would survive in our climate. The answer is simple – they do it as well as their nearest genetic cousin, the cougar. In fact, the only two big cats in the world that can purr are the cheetah and the cougar. Robin and Annie grow winter coats each year. The problem is not temperature. As the world’s only pursuit cat, Cheetahs live in deserts and Savanah because there is minimal vegetation and detritus on the land to interfere with their pursuit. They were once widely spread, including North America, but slowly lost range over millions of years.

Robin in the lead on a snow-day walk with Annie behind him.

Robin had lost about 90% of his vision due to a virus by the time he was about 12 months old but is very independent.

The government does not want people using Ambassador Animals in schools and other venues to talk about conservation and education.

So, what is the real reason?

Ironically, every year people in North America are killed by cows, pigs, horses and dogs among other domestic animals but those animals not “dangerous” by government standards and nothing is done to mitigate this risk. Wild animals, both indigenous and exotic have no value so they are considered dangerous.

BC makes millions of dollars each year from both hunting and entertainment animals. Thousands of hunting permits are sold, and permits are given to companies to bring animals into BC for TV and movies. Allowing people to use Ambassador Animals to discuss the need for conservation has no dollar value to the government. I have no serious war against hunting or animals in TV and movies. I am not a vegetarian or animal rights activist. I don’t love or hate zoos. All I am asking is to have the right to let children see and understand that animals are both real and necessary for our survival. Seeing a cheetah in real life is something no one ever forgets.

In BC this year you can find a government culling wolves for killing big horn sheep while at the same time opening up a hunting season for big horn sheep.[7] And if Annie and Robin were movie animals I could get permits to have them here. If money is involved, it seems public safety and animal welfare becomes secondary concerns. Two years ago, they allowed a 600lb tiger into downtown Vancouver behind an 8 foot, free standing fence for a TV shoot. This fence would have fallen over if the tiger leaned on it. He is twelve feet tall on two legs and can jump 15 feet straight up in the air. I know this tiger personally having worked beside him for a year at another facility. I am not against this. I am sure Sinbad found all of this very interesting, better than sitting around all day. When you are a 600lb tiger, you don’t get rattled easily. What I want is equal consideration given to the values of conservation and education.

600lb tiger behind free standing 8 ft. fence in downtown Vancouver, Feb 2016 met public safety standards according to the Director of Wildlife. This application was approved in 4 weeks with no PAC recommendations. Photo credit: YVR Shoots.

After three days in this Appeal Board hearing room, my lawyer, who normally defends serious crime allegations, leaned over to me and said: “I have never seen the government spend more on a case than this one.”

The Director of Wildlife brought witnesses from Africa, the US and Canada to stop me from taking our two cheetahs to schools. They flew at least 8 people just from Victoria. They brought the clerk from the CAS office in Victoria who waited two days to testify under oath that she was the clerk from the CAS office. Like every other application, our current location in Crawford Bay has been determined an “urban setting unsuitable for dangerous wildlife”. There are 350 people living in Crawford Bay. But what would be the point of reminding the Appeal Board that nearly every zoo in the world is in the middle of a city? And that there are wild cougars roaming here in Crawford Bay?

In those six years and until the first day of my Appeal, I had never spoken to a single member of the government, never been asked any questions, and most certainly never had anyone from the government actually come see Robin or Annie. I had, in the past, requested meetings with the government (evidence of which was entered in the Appeal), but which were ignored.

Now they had witnesses testifying from all over the world in a case they spent 2 years preparing. I knew the outcome was a forgone conclusion before I walked into that room on the first day.

I have a simple belief: “A drop of water can’t stop a forest fire but the rain can.” In the forest one day a fire started. All the animals ran to the river bank and safety to watch the fire destroy their home. All except one hummingbird who flew back and forth from the river carrying a few drops of water each time to put on the fire. The other animals screamed and yelled for the humming bird to stop, that it was doing no good. Finally, one animal yelled: “what do you think you are doing?” The hummingbird simply said: “I am doing what I can” and continued on.

Yup, what I am doing might be nothing, but my nothing is better than nothing. I am retired, I am lousy at golf, and I love animals and want to give something back to a world that was pretty good to me.

Though I felt the decision was predetermined before I walked into the Appeal Board room I got my opinion voiced and on the record and expert testimony recorded that refuted many of the Ministry’s accusations.

After two of the world’s leading cheetah experts, one of them a witness for the Crown, gave expert evidence under oath that cheetahs have never killed anyone and are a “flight animal”, my lawyer and I spent the next 2 days listening to question after question put forward by the government dealing with public safety.

After expert testimony by her own witness, the Director of Wildlife sat in the Appeal room on the fourth day as the last person to testify and read into the record a line she penned from the last permit application she declined: “I conclude that by defining cheetahs as prohibited species individuals Government has determined that cheetahs are one of the most dangerous species of wildlife.”

In 2008, Minister of the Environment Barry Penner, who proposed these laws to prohibit dangerous animals stated during the second reading of the bill:

“These incidents show that some alien species need to be regulated, if they are a threat to public safety.”

And

“Not all controlled alien species will be treated the same but will be managed according to their level of risk.”

It is important to understand why the cheetah is a great Ambassador. The cheetah, Acinonyx Jubatus, lives in its own genus due to the fact that cheetahs cannot fully retract their claws, thus making their paws more like a dog’s and limiting the cheetah’s attack (they cannot tear or grip flesh like other large carnivores) and have limited climbing capabilities compared to members of the Panthera like the tiger and lion. Cheetahs are in fact half dog and have many dog-like traits. While it was noted by the Crown that it is dangerous having large cats in proximity to people, the Crawford Bay area has always had a resident cougar population who have fully retractable claws, bigger teeth and greater jaw strength. (I have worked with cougars in the past.) As I explained previously though BC Conservation Officers destroy a large number of cougars every year, only one person in all of Canada is killed by a cougar every 10 years.

Being very clear about this: The Director of Wildlife had her own expert witness, Dr. Laurie Marker who has 40 years of cheetah experience testify on public record, under oath, just 2 days earlier that no one has ever been killed or even attacked by a wild cheetah. Our expert witness also testified to this fact.

So, this is the really important part:

The Director chose to ignore evidence and testimony given under oath, on record, before this BC Appeal Board by her own expert witness. The Director of Wildlife perverted her own definition of the law to suit her needs and even in the face of overwhelming testimonial and written evidence believes she can elevate her authority to a level that cannot be contested and that that authority will be translated by her Ministry into a final decision.

She did also in my last declined application use unlawfully obtained evidence to reach yet another conclusion regarding my potential non-compliance with the Wildlife Act. Even though this was evidence not lawful in court, the Director felt she was investigator, judge, jury and executioner of a case already dismissed by the courts. She elevated that decision above the authority of the courts.

She is wearing the Emperor’s new clothes, no one is going to argue, and we are not in a court of law.

Worst of all may be that if the Director finds her prima facie argument of public safety fettered and chained by common sense, reality, evidence, and testimony, she will depend on the board to elevate any other secondary objections to a status of ruling the decision in her favor. If she is disarmed of her arguments of public safety and animal welfare, it will become critical I am not a recognised educational institution or that a single breach of compliance is enough to convict a man (I haven’t even had a speeding ticket since 2004 and realised on the first day of the hearing it was the first time I had ever been in a court of any type), or that I am not compliant with the rigorous and unrealistic safety standards or wish to belong to a massive and failing bureaucratic animal exhibition group whose standards I already far exceed – or possibly it could be that they deny my application because I want to house the cheetahs in the sprawling urban mass of downtown Crawford Bay.

And until then no one had ever asked me how you would recapture an escaped Ambassador cheetah – a highly technical and dangerous process which requires banging on the side of their dinner bowl with a fork until they come home. It gives a person a sore wrist. Chasing a cheetah is like a roadrunner cartoon. You don’t need to capture this animal if you have a relationship with it. It lives in a home where it is happy. Cheetahs form very strong bonds with people. They love people. I don’t want to tell people, I want to show people.

Stripped of genuine answers, I was left wondering why the government was doing all of this.

What is the real reason?

  1. Cheetahs are clearly not dangerous. Now that evidence is public record.
  2. The well-being of our two animals is without equal. Our cats walk and run each day outside their enclosures and will continue to do so.
  3. I know enough about the problems to speak to children about the need for conservation.

Carol and Annie.

What is the real reason?

Each of my applications took on average 8 months to process. Each was sent to a PAC who worked for the government or has strong reasons to follow government policies. We were shocked in application #5 when the CAZA (Canadian Accreditation of Zoos and Aquariums) PAC member actually stated in writing that provided we followed all rules and regulations he did not think this would be a bad idea. He not only retired from the PAC a month later, but from CAZA itself and the Vancouver Aquarium. The CAZA Associate Director took the PAC seat wrote a dissenting report on my final application.

When asked if she had ever approved an application the BCSPCA PAC member disdainfully said under oath: “We don’t approve any applications.”

The Conservation Officer Service PAC member also did little research and submitted a copy of the Crawford Bay School bus schedule and a dozen pictures of the golf course as their evidence. (I photo-shopped a picture of Annie chasing a school bus down the road in front of the golf course and put it on my wall.)

None of the PAC members did any research or asked us any questions. The Provincial Vet said previously in her opinions that she was under no obligation to do any research and firmly stated under oath that it could not be indicated how we would be able to look after Annie and Robin’s particular health needs. This is despite the fact that we presented vet certificates of health with each application and that Robin and Annie are 6 years old and in good health.

After 6 years of having a relationship with Annie and Robin, I can firmly state that living with cheetahs is advanced parenting. Both of them have genetic disorders of various types and cheetahs are a nervous and cautious animal that takes hours of time each day to care for properly – and we do. Every day is a new day with a big cat.

I would rather save my message for children. Annie and Robin are living miracles on earth. The world’s fastest animal. They love people in a way that is positive and connecting. To even see them is to be amazed. I started out in all this to give something back to the community. I am neither brave nor strong. I have come to a place now 6 years later where I am doing this because I feel I have no choice. Young people deserve better, both from our government and the world.

As I left the Appeal room on the final day, the Director of Wildlife leaned over to me and said: “I really believe you love Annie and Robin.”  Shocked, I muttered a thank you and walked out but was left with the gut wrenching knowledge that someone was smiling when they killed me.

Now as I near the end of all this I am still plagued by the question:

What is the real reason?

We still don’t know for sure. Canada is a free country and everyone is entitled to their opinion about what I am trying to do. Ideally the government should work to maintain fairness and equality. What the government should not do is fabricate and twist policy and then hold it up as law in order to stay on the path of least resistance. If Canadians must obey the law as it is written so must the government. When there is strong evidence that a government is serving only itself, it is our duty to stand up.

Children are hope. We have left them a real mess to clean up. Maybe we can help just a little bit?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheetah

[2] https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/12/cheetahs-extinction-endangered-africa-iucn-animals-science/

[3] https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/cheetah-population-worldwide-important-facts-and-figures.html

[4] https://www.cites.org/eng/disc/text.php#VII

[5] http://dewildt.co.za/our-ambassadors/

[6] https://nationalzoo.si.edu/center-for-species-survival/investigating-aa-amyloidosis-prevalence-cheetahs

[7] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/bighorn-sheep-open-hunt-predator-cull-bc-1.4845480

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About ingrid

Ingrid has been the owner and editor of The East Shore Mainstreet newspaper for more than twelve years since 2002. She lives and works out of her home in Gray Creek alongside her husband Juergen and children Zoe and Luka.

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