News / Calgary

GuZoo 'whistleblower' comes forward, providing new details to province

An Edmonton animal rights activist has stepped forward to claim he's behind graphic footage and images taken at Alberta's controversial GuZoo over the Canada Day long weekend.

Philip Shaw told Metro the material, which includes a nearly 10-minute edited video showing maggots in a dish of cat food as well as carcasses in the vicinity of animal enclosures, was gathered during one of seven excursions at the private zoo, which is located near Three Hills, Alta. and has long been a source of controversy.

Previously, the Council of Concerned Albertans for Animal Welfare and Safety went public with the material after claiming to have received it from an anonymous "whistleblower."

But Shaw said Monday he's "just an activist with a camera."

"I am willing to be punished as I have been," he said, referring to two $275 tickets he's been slapped with for trespassing on GuZoo property. "And I expect the evidence I gathered to be used to improve and punish the GuZoo."

Shaw has also approached a representative with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD) and could discuss the material with investigators as early as this week, ministry spokesperson Nikki Booth said Monday.

"We have been made aware of him taking the responsibility for him taking the photos and the videos and he will be put in touch with the appropriate government officials to have conversations with them," Booth said.

Previously, AESRD had said it would need more information from the person responsible for the then-anonymous Canada Day long weekend material before it could pursue any further investigation of GuZoo's current standards.

But Shaw also provided an Aug. 16 letter addressed to him from Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen that indicates the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals already conducted an inspection of GuZoo after receiving complaints in July.

"It is the understanding of my staff that no violations were detected under the Animal Protection Act," McQueen wrote.

Along with the letter, Shaw also provided numerous images he claimed were taken during his excursions at GuZoo. Some of the images appeared to show different angles of the same animals at the centre of the Canada Day long weekend material.

Shaw has previously gained notoriety among animal rights proponents for his actions. He claimed to have swum onto Calgary Zoo property during the historic June flooding to help free animals in partially submerged enclosures.

He said his primary goal behind coming forward as the GuZoo "whistleblower" is to put pressure on site owner Lynn Gustafson to seek help from the province to better care for as many as 400 domestic and exotic animals living there.

GuZoo, meanwhile, previously lost its licence for a month in 2011 and was put under strict regulations when it did reopen.

But critics have contended that while the public areas of the site have been cleaned, it's the behind-the-scenes areas, where Shaw's footage was taken, that remain in deplorable condition.

Gustafson has confirmed the material was taken on his property but chalked it up to staff oversight.

"You can make anything you want out of it," he told Metro in July. "I could go to your house and find something that's wrong probably."

Gustafson declined Monday to discuss any incidents of trespassing, saying all information has been turned over to the RCMP.

He did say more than 20,000 visitors have made their way to GuZoo since spring, marking the controversial site's busiest summer since opening in 1990.

Gustafson added it's likely the facility will remain open to the public during the winter months for the first time in three years due to increasing popularity.

"Everybody's commenting on how well the animals look and what good shape they're in," Gustafson said. "It makes you feel good to hear that."

The comments from the embattled owner marked a drastic turnaround from threats in July to close GuZoo off to the public within six months if RCMP didn't make headway on laying charges in what he claims have been a rash of trespassing and vandalism incidents.

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