Spotlight Switzerland: Dolphins died from drug poisoning

Humans keep animals for many reasons – for companionship, for protection, for food and fiber, for transport, for entertainment. We have absolute power over the animals in our care and with that power comes responsibility to meet their needs.

Accepting that animals are used for a wide variety of purposes does not mean all purposes can be justified and just because certain practices are commonplace doesn’t make them right. In November 2011, I wrote about the mysterious and tragic dolphin deaths in Coneyland, a zoo in Switzerland, a country with a reputation for generally high animal welfare standards and strong legislation.

The mystery surrounding these dolphin deaths is now over, as the toxicology reports from a forensics institute in St. Gallen, Switzerland, have just been released. These reports show the two dolphins had buprenorphine, a heroin substitute, in their urine. It is not known whether the drug had been deliberately or accidentally thrown into the tank but it is known that partygoers were on the premises for a two day ‘rave’.

The events surrounding the deaths point to complete indifference on the part of the authorities and the zoo owners who allowed this two day ‘rave’ party on the zoo premises, close to the pool where the animals were held.

Local experts warned of the risks of allowing this event but their warnings were callously ignored. Coneyland’s track record over the years has been very poor, with at least six dolphins dying over the past three years and the practice of using zoo premises as a venue for entertainment is one that can clearly put the welfare of animals at risk.

In spite of the vulnerability of these animals and the poor track record of the owners of the zoo, the authorities apparently supported their decision to hold this event, thereby putting the dolphins in harms way and leading to, what staff described, as a 'drawn out and painful' death.

The culprits are those people who threw the drug into the pool but the Regional veterinary authorities should have ensured adequate welfare and safety protocols before permitting the event and the owners of the zoo should have ensured the partygoers had no access to the pool.

The bigger question remains - how, in the 21st Century, with all the we know about the extraordinary sensitivity and intelligence of dolphins, can we justify keeping such animals in a captive environment that is little more than a backdrop for our entertainment?

It can only be hoped that these dolphins have not died in vain. Their tragic story has travelled the world and no doubt many caring people are wondering what action will be taken to prevent this happening again.

We can all make a difference ourselves by seeking to ensure that we have adequate animal welfare in place and enforced in our own countries and communities and by not supporting establishments that fail to meet adequate standards of care for wild or domesticated animals.

-- CM

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