News / Calgary

Footage prompts new inspections of Alberta's controversial GuZoo

Officials with four Alberta government ministries and animal anti-cruelty group have now conducted inspections of GuZoo after graphic photos and video footage surfaced from behind the scenes of the controversial attraction.

But save for a requirement that GuZoo owner Lynn Gustafson install a fence around the area where he disposes carcasses, government representatives would only say they would be monitoring issues raised by the complainant, which Metro has identified as Edmonton animal rights activist Philip Shaw.

Stuart Elson, spokesperson for Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, confirmed one of his ministry's inspectors were involved in the new inspections of GuZoo's operations, which occurred the week of Oct. 21 and also involved Alberta Health, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Alberta Justice and Solicitor General and the SPCA.

"The main thing was a containment area," Elson said, referring to the erection of a fence in the zoo's disposal area. "It was about making sure the area's contained so scavengers can't get at stuff."

Gustafson did previously lose his licence for a month in 2011 amid a firestorm of criticism about living conditions for 400 domestic and exotic animals at the private zoo.  But renewed pressure from government inspectors didn't appear to have fazed the embattled owner when reached Sunday.

"Really all it amounted to is them (the government) saying they did this to try to keep him happy," he said, referring to Shaw. "We're very nervous about him being around."

The photos and videos behind the complaints were gathered by Shaw during what he concedes was a trespassing endeavour into the feeding and living areas of GuZoo over the Canada Day long weekend. The material he gathered showed everything from dead dog carcasses stacked on piles of garbage to maggot-infested cat food and other filth in bird cages and other areas.

Shaw said part of the issue with the investigation was timing, given that Gustafson had months to address outstanding issues after the footage surfaced in a report by Metro in July.

"For nothing to happen is ridiculous . . . I don't care that I got those pictures trespassing," he said. "I will go back in there if I have to."

Shaw has repeatedly visited GuZoo in recent months, armed with protest signs and flags and performing solo demonstrations in the vicinity of the facility.

Shaw also admitted earlier this year he'd ventured onto GuZoo property without permission seven times and been slapped with two trespassing fines. Three Hills RCMP have warned that such an offence committed at night could carry a maximum penalty of $5,000 or six months in jail.

Carrie Sancartier, a spokesperson with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, said in an email the department would continue to work with other ministries to ensure GuZoo is in compliance with the conditions set out in its operating permit and development plan.

"If compliance issues are identified during inspections, department staff will consult with Justice and Solicitor General staff, as final decisions regarding enforcement action rest with that department," Sancartier said.

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