Treibjagd-Futo-14-(Elsa Nature Conservancy)On 25 March 2015, Australia for Dolphins (AFD) launched legal action against the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), the world’s peak zoo body, filed with the Geneva civil court. AFD is alleging that WAZA is being complicit in the infamous dolphin drive hunts in Taiji and accuse WAZA of misleading conduct over its stance on the Taiji dolphin hunts. OceanCare very much welcomes AFD’s decision to take legal action against WAZA in a bold attempt to remedy this matter and is fully committed to indirectly supporting AFD in this cause.

Please read the guest blog of Sarah Lucas, founder of Australia for Dolphins and support their petition www.wazapetition.org.

If you want WAZA to enforce its Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare and stop gross animal abuse, please sign the petition at: www.wazapetition.org. When we reach 100,000 signatures, Australia for Dolphins will deliver the petition to WAZA in Switzerland.

Sarah Lucas, Founder AFD

Sarah Lucas, Founder AFD

For an organisation claiming to uphold the highest standards of animal welfare, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) keeps some alarming secrets behind the doors of its member zoos and aquariums.

The chaining, beating and threatening of animals with sticks are just a few of the abuses caught on camera at these facilities without any consequences from WAZA – even though these abuses are in violation of WAZA’s own Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare.

For the average visitor, this may come as a surprise. After all, on its website WAZA claims its members are deeply committed to the care and welfare of animals. These are not the places we expect to hear of elephants being poisoned by staff, or animals dying from zoo incompetence or poor living conditions. When we walk through the doors of a WAZA-endorsed zoo, we don’t imagine we’ll find shackled elephants “swaying” on hard concrete floors, or performing dangerous circus tricks under threat from men with bull-hooks.

But in reality, WAZA turns a blind eye to many abuses of animals by its fee-paying members.

Perhaps most disturbing is WAZA’s position on the horrific capture of dolphins in commercial hunts in Taiji, Japan. WAZA’s member, the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA), contains more than 30 aquariums that purchase dolphins and whales from these hunts. These captures are horrific – many dolphins die from cardiac arrest or injuries as they are chased to exhaustion and ripped, thrashing, from their families.

Furthermore, these aquarium captures provide the economic incentive for the gruesome slaughters that turn Taiji’s cove red with blood. Dolphins captured in Taiji are either sold to aquariums, or slaughtered for their meat. However, it is clear that the real driver of the hunts is the lucrative aquarium trade – live dolphins are worth up to US$100,000, whereas a dolphin carcass is worth only $500. JAZA member aquaria account for up to 40% of the demand for live dolphins, and therefore play a crucial role in incentivising the hunts.

Despite this, WAZA claims that all its members – including JAZA – “place animal welfare at the forefront of all animal acquisitions.” WAZA has not criticised JAZA’s involvement in the hunts, nor taken any disciplinary action against JAZA for openly flouting its Code of Ethics. Instead, WAZA excuses JAZA’s participation as “relatively minor,” and describes JAZA as a “vital partner” in progress to stop the hunts.

It is unclear what “progress” WAZA refers to. In reality, JAZA’s role has been to ensure that its aquariums can continue to do business in Taiji. In 2009, JAZA and WAZA negotiated a “Dolphin Management Protocol” to allow JAZA member aquaria to take dolphins from a “herding exercise” in Taiji.

According to the Chairman of JAZA, in 2014 WAZA agreed that JAZA aquariums could even have “first pick” of Taiji dolphins in the month of September. It was agreed that JAZA member aquariums could purchase dolphins from “large” pods, even though WAZA has admitted herding in large pods hurts the dolphins. Non-bottlenose dolphins can be purchased by JAZA member aquaria even when unwanted dolphins are inhumanely stabbed to death.

WAZA should be using its influence – influence it claims to have – to stop the capture of dolphins for aquariums in Taiji. But, sadly, it appears WAZA’s membership interests come before those of Taiji’s dolphins.

This week, a small animal welfare group, Australia for Dolphins, launched legal action against WAZA in Switzerland. AFD claims that it is misleading for WAZA to claim publicly that all its members are committed to animal welfare and conservation, when some of its members are involved in the cruel and ecologically-devastating Taiji hunts.

The legal action follows on from a far-reaching #ShameWAZA campaign. Shocked by images of animal abuse in WAZA facilities, thousands of people from around the world have called on WAZA to enforce its Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare.

If WAZA chooses to act now, it could have a transformative effect on the lives of countless animals acquired by or living in WAZA facilities. It could save dolphins and beluga whales being ripped from their families, bring an end to elephants being chained and beaten, and give new lives to bears unable to move in grimy cages.

WAZA’s Code of Ethics is currently just a piece of paper – but if enforced, it could be a weapon to end the gross mistreatment and abuse of defenceless animals in the “care” of zoos and aquariums.

Let’s hope WAZA listens and acts – please take a second to ask them to now by signing the petition.

Please tell WAZA to stop animal cruelty by its members here: www.wazapetition.org.

The author, Sarah Lucas, is the founder of Australia for Dolphins (www.afd.org.au).