By Sean Meyer/London Community News
Although said somewhat tongue-in-cheek, Ward 8 Councillor Paul Hubert summed up council’s decision to support the relocating of exotic animals out of Storybook Gardens.
“Today is the day to make the decision; it is the day we seal the deal, and send these animals to places they can be cared for in a way they aught to be,” Hubert said. “Our staff there is doing the very best they can do with what we have there. The problem is what we have was built in 1958.”
Council voted on Tuesday (Jan. 31) to proceed with the 2008 business plan that involves moving the exotic animals out of Storybook Gardens, but not without debating the morality, and the financial costs, of the decision.
Ward 7 Councillor Matt Brown showed the business case for the park’s new direction by stating in 2007 Storybook was seeing about 110,000 attendees each year and was losing approximately $150,000. This past year, under the 2008 business plan, the number is 145,000 attendees and the balance sheet shows somewhere between a $20,000 loss and break even situation, even after half the exotic animals had already left the park.
“There are measurables in the business case; those are good measurables. It is very you see a 25 per cent, 30 per cent increase in visitations to a facility. I appreciate putting the stories back in Storybook,” Hubert said. “It is a different day; kids are looking for something different. They are looking for interactiveness. I think staff has performed admirably.”
Ward 2 Councillor Bill Armstrong said it was “almost cruelty” to continue keeping the animals in outdated facilities and that “we are turning the chapter on Storybook Gardens, but there will be a new chapter.” For Armstrong, the greater issue — stronger than just a financial one — is the morality of continuing to keep the exotics in London.
“What I hear from the people who want to keep these animals at Storybook Gardens is the bottom line, the dollar. But what you have to think about is the moral question. Which is more important?” Armstrong said. “For me, it is the moral question, keeping exotic animals caged in a facility that is outdated, that is from the ‘50s, doesn’t make a lot of sense and isn’t right.”
Ward 4 Councillor Stephen Orser and Ward 9 Councillor Dale Henderson spoke up on finding other options to removing the exotics, in particular, finding outside ownership for the park.
“Is there any private enterprise that wants to take over? If we said come on and run this park without the seals, what do we have to sell?” Henderson said. “If Slippery leaves, we will lose maybe $1 million this year, that’s very possible. I’m not just too sure that after 50 years we don’t know how to take care of seals.”
Ward 6 Councillor Nancy Branscombe spoke out passionately, both as a councillor and a mother, on the need to move the exotic animals out. Branscombe, using her own family as an example, said her children (ages 10, eight and four) refuse to go to Storybook Gardens “to look at seals swim around and around in circles in a stressful condition.”
In thanking Zoocheck Canada for their assistance in finding homes for the exotic animals, Branscombe said it creates an opportunity to move forward with a direction that wasn’t come to in haste.
“All we were waiting for were opportunities to come up in the next number of years to be able to satisfactorily transfer the animals to someplace better than where they were,” Branscombe said. “Now we can turn Storybook Garden into something we can all be proud of. I can tell you, I am not proud of it the way it is now. I am not proud to say we have these animals in captivity. To me, this is an absolute no-brainer.”