The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) is the leading international body representing facilities that keep and display captive animals. Its aim is to promote conservation and animal welfare in zoos and aquariums.
To many, WAZA membership represents a guarantee that a zoo or aquarium upholds the highest levels of ethical treatment, and adheres to the strictest animal welfare standards in the industry.
To get the WAZA ‘tick of approval’ is a big deal – some of the world’s most prestigious zoos and aquariums are part of the organisation’s huge network of members and affiliate organisations. Member organisations are allowed to use the WAZA brand to promote themselves to visitors.
More than 700 million people visit WAZA facilities every year.
On the ‘What We Do’ section of its website, WAZA says it “encourages the highest standards of animal welfare and husbandry”.
But what does it really mean to be a member of WAZA?
WAZA claims to promote animal welfare and conservation, but a number of member facilities have less than encouraging report cards.
There are WAZA members who are responsible for terrible abuse of animals, including the following.
1. STEALING dolphins from the wild during the brutal Taiji drive hunts
Some WAZA members source animals from the wild using cruel and inhumane methods, such as those used during the violent drive hunts in Taiji, Japan. The Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA), a WAZA member, used to actively advocate for these hunts to continue.
At least half of JAZA’s aquariums buy Taiji dolphins. Dolphins captured in Taiji for display in WAZA-affiliated aquariums are subject to severe levels of stress and suffering. Many of them die during the capture process.
Their friends and family members who are left behind are slaughtered with metal rods using methods experts believe register ‘at the highest level of gross trauma, pain, and distress’.
As WAZA is aware, the capture of dolphins for sale to aquaria for hundreds of thousands of dollars provides the economic incentive for the horrific slaughters that turn Taiji’s cove red with blood for six months of every year.
What is WAZA doing about this?
In a statement on its website, WAZA declares: “The only WAZA member institution to have taken wild caught dolphins from the drive fishery has now left the association.”
Strong evidence suggests this is not true.
Seoul Grand Park Zoo and Hanwa Hotels & Resorts Co in Korea, both full WAZA members, have Taiji dolphins. Another member, Ocean Park Hong Kong, historically purchased many dolphins and whales from the Japanese drive hunts. Additionally, at least 30 members of JAZA have also been identified as purchasing Taiji drive hunt dolphins.
WAZA evades responsibility for its member JAZA’s actions explaining JAZA are allowed to take live dolphins for their aquariums.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH, WAZA – It’s time to remove the economic incentive for the brutal drive hunts and tell all WAZA members to stop purchasing dolphins from Taiji – or expel them!
2. KILLING perfectly healthy animals
In February 2014 Copenhagen Zoo (a full WAZA member) was the subject of worldwide condemnation when it coaxed Marius, a perfectly healthy two-year old giraffe, away from his family and shot him in the head with a bolt gun. The giraffe was then dissected in front of a crowd and fed to the lions.
Why? Simply because Marius didn’t have the right genes. Even though fewer than 80,000 individual giraffes of multiple subspecies remain, and despite the species being in rapid decline due to poaching, human population growth, and habitat damage, Marius was deemed too common to be of value.
And poor Marius isn’t alone. Between 3,000 and 5,000 healthy animals are put down every year in European zoos, many of which are part of the European associate membership body of WAZA, EAZA. Indeed, the director of another WAZA member (Germany’s Magdeburg Zoo) was convicted for breaking animal rights laws when it put down three completely healthy, but genetically “worthless”, tiger cubs.
Despite a public outpouring of concern following the death of baby Marius, WAZA did not condemn the killing. In fact, they did the opposite. Soon after the incident occurred, WAZA released a statement defending Copenhagen Zoo’s decision to carry out the heartless extermination, which they called “population management.” Likewise, WAZA did not condemn its member Magdeburg Zoo for killing three healthy tiger cubs, even after the involved staff were convicted of breaking German law. Rather, WAZA issued a statement accusing the German court of “moral hypocrisy”.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH, WAZA – Putting down “worthless” animals is not conservation.
3. BEATING and MISTREATING animals
WAZA’s network of zoos includes the sub-standard Dehiwala Zoo in India, which shackles elephants to concrete slabs with chains. The elephants are made perform circus tricks by men with sticks, such as balancing on tiny stools. In Mysore Zoo, another WAZA member in India, video footage shows a shackled baby elephant being beaten until it limps.
The treatment of animals at Delhi Zoo is so bad they reported many deaths in one year alone. And reading reviews of WAZA member Chiang Mai Zoo is like reading a manual in animal mistreatment and neglect. On Trip Advisor shocked tourists describe animals in “far too small” enclosures “with absolutely filthy water”, and elephants “chained up, rocking back and forth”.
One review reads, “my wife actually cried. Do not waste your money or time – it should be shut down by animal rights organisations.”
What, animal rights organisations like WAZA?
What action has WAZA taken to end this mistreatment?
WAZA stays silent, while member organisations like those detailed above abuse animals entrusted to their care.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH, WAZA – How can you give your stamp of approval to zoos where animals are being abused in plain view?
4. EXPLOITING animals for entertainment
One of the most famous examples of WAZA member’s misusing animals for profit and entertainment is SeaWorld Orlando’s exploitation of Tilikum, a tortured killer whale depicted in the 2013 documentary Blackfish.
Tilikum has been attacked by other killer whales, kept in isolation, and made to perform in repetitive shows. Sadly, these poor circumstances culminated in Tilikum, a highly intelligent and sentient animal, killing an experienced SeaWorld trainer.
While the case of Tilikum is a particularly prominent and shocking example of animal exploitation at a WAZA affiliated zoo, it is not the only example.
Everland Zoo in South Korea came into controversy in 2009 when laughing zookeepers put a terrified baby bear in the same cage as lion cubs, apparently as a joke for a television show. Taman Safari in Indonesia runs a circle-style show with dolphins in a filthy green pool, and the same family owns an illegal (and hideously cruel) travelling dolphin circus.
How is WAZA acting to stop its members exploiting animals?
In the case of SeaWorld Orlando, WAZA sat on the side-lines while the United States Government stepped in and banned sea parks from allowing trainers in the water. And while the traumatised Tilikum floats listlessly in his tiny tank, brought out only to take part in daily entertainment shows, WAZA says and does nothing.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH, WAZA – There is nothing entertaining about exploitation.
So… what is a WAZA?
WAZA claims that it promotes the ‘highest standards’ of animal welfare.
But actions speak louder than words.
WAZA simply cannot continue to say one thing and do another.
Australia for Dolphins is holding WAZA to account. Please, join us in taking a stand against animal cruelty and ask WAZA to ensure all members will stop purchasing dolphins from the Taiji drive hunts – or expel them.
Animals need to be protected, and we need your help to do it.