Animal welfare can sometimes be an illusion

An animal welfare act that does not protect animals from harm is worse than useless because it gives the illusion that animals are cared for while allowing them to be shamelessly exploited. So is the case it seems with the Swiss Animal Protection legislation.

A short time before the Swiss Animal Protection Society held a conference to discuss the welfare of animals in zoos, the authorities made an inexplicable decision to allow a ‘rave party’ to be held in a Swiss zoo with the full knowledge, and apparent complicity, of the veterinary office of the regional authority and the veterinarian in change of the establishment.

The owners of Connyland, the last remaining dolphinarium in Switzerland, demonstrating absolute disregard for the wellbeing and safety of the animals confined in their establishment, allowed a two-day rave  just metres from where the animals were confined. The sounds measured over the period of this event reached over 93 decibels. For a human being unable to escape noise is bad enough, but for a dolphin, whose hearing is much more sensitive than ours, potential suffering is unimaginable. Their hearing is remarkably acute and dolphins have been known to use echo location to find fish buried in sand.

Two dolphins died in the weeks after this event and their keeper, unable to intervene but very upset by the suffering these animals endured, is reported as saying that they died after foaming at the mouth and thrashing and trembling.

Switzerland is a country that prides itself on its animal welfare record ands yet it seems to have been unable to address the many animal welfare issues prevalent in this so-called dolphinarium. The authorities were warned of the dangers of allowing the rave to proceed and yet they did nothing and two animals suffered an agonising death. If the quotes attributed to the official veterinarian are correct, it appears that he is admitting that he lacks expertise about dolphins.

Autopsies have proved inconclusive but there is speculation that the dolphins either died from poisoning or suffered collapse as a result of the noise. Whatever the cause, the deaths of these animals follow an unmistakable pattern. According to a spokesperson from the Swiss Animal Protection Society at least six dolphins have died in the facility in the past three years. Is this because captivity can never meet the needs of these animals or it this a failure on the part of the facility management and/or the authorities? Whose responsibility is it to ensure the needs of animals ahead of those of commercial interests? Do these dolphin deaths demonstrate a failure of the legislation or a failure of enforcement?

There are many layers of responsibility here and there are questions to be asked at each link of the chain. Where did the dolphins come from and if they were imported into the country, who authorised this import? Who authorised the establishment to keep dolphins and what checks and inspections were made to ensure the standards of care? Who made the decision to allow the rave and why did they ignore the warnings of danger? Finally questions must be asked about the role of the local authority veterinarian and facility veterinarian. They, above all, would be expected to put the welfare of the animals before all considerations. Will the veterinarians concerned be asked for an account of what happened and will action be taken accordingly?

Nothing will bring back those animals to life or spare them the suffering they endured but lessons must be learned and action be taken to ensure no repetition should ever occur in Switzerland or anywhere in the world. Some countries have already decided that, even in the best of circumstances, it is impossible to provide for the wellbeing of dolphins in captivity. Let’s hope Switzerland takes note and follows suit.

--CM

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