Bison death at High Park Zoo shocks visitor
The death of the bison known as Alberta prompted the zoo to close early on Saturday, but it was teeming with visitors again Sunday.
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On her first-ever visit to the High Park Zoo on Saturday, Chantrey Casey was greeted by a dead bison.
It was a poor introduction to the 124-year-old attraction. It left Casey saying the place should be closed.
“The bison’s legs were sticking straight out, very abnormally. Its body didn’t look limp, it looked stiff,” she said.
The late bison, known as Alberta, was one of the zoo’s oldest animals. She was in good health but had been lethargic in the days leading up to her death, said Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation spokesperson Matthew Cutler.
He said the public alerted staff to the dead animal and a post-mortem will be done to learn more.
Although the zoo was closed late Saturday afternoon to remove the bison, 24 hours later, it was teeming with families waiting to glimpse its emus, yaks and reindeer.
The bison’s death was the latest in a series of high-profile incidents — from financial uncertainty to animal escapes — that have put High Park Zoo in the headlines.
In 2015, a peacock got loose causing a sensation on rooftops around nearby Roncesvalles Ave. In 2016, two capybaras bolted, leading to a $15,000 city-wide search.
On Saturday, Casey posted a photo of the dead bison on Facebook, urging her friends to “get this place shut down.”
She told the Star on Sunday that she was unimpressed with the park staff’s handling of Alberta’s death.
She said she called Toronto’s 311 hotline at 3:15 p.m. but, according to Cutler, the zoo was not closed to deal with the bison until 4:30 p.m.
Visitors continued to walk by the bison pen even after the zoo was supposedly closed, said Casey. And she said she was frustrated by the lack of staff around when she first noticed the bison was dead.
In 2011, High Park Zoo almost lost its municipal funding in a cost-cutting bid by Mayor Rob Ford, but a public outcry prompted the city to maintain the attraction.
Cutler said the zoo attracts about 600,000 visits a year.
At midday Sunday, kids squealed with laughter as zookeepers invited them to feed llamas, pet rabbits and get close to the famed capybara babies.
Paul Leventis and Danielle Wang had brought their kids to High Park for a play date. Leventis said any time his family visits the park, they spend at least 20 minutes looking at the animals.
“It’s a pretty unique (attraction),” Leventis said.
And it’s great to have it right in the city, since the Toronto Zoo is so far away, added Wang.
Anieza Kacaj, 9, was snapping pictures of her family in front of deer and sheep.
She and her brothers Alesio, 13, and Amadeo, 5, had walked through the entire zoo, but Anieza was still excited about the rabbits by the zoo’s entrance.
“It’s so nice that they brought all these animals here,” Anieza said.
“These animals are so spread out around the world. And it’s free and so many places you have to pay to see animals,” Anieza added.
Ted Marras lives within walking distance of High Park. He said he used to come to the zoo more often when his son was younger, but he still stops by on weekend strolls.
“It’s fantastic to see kids having a blast, looking at the animals and learning about the animals,” he said.