Zoocheck started as an informal project in August 1984 that was focused almost exclusively on the plight of wild animals in Ontario’s roadside zoos. Beginning with a three year investigation of a number of Ontario’s horrendously poor and little known slum zoos, it resulted in a report that revealed for the first time ever just how bad the situation was in the province. That report was the impetus for one of the first Private Members Bills aimed at addressing the zoo problem and for the establishment of Zoocheck as a formal organization in 1988.
Since that time, Zoocheck’s activities have expanded to include a range of other wildlife in captivity issues, including those associated with the keeping of animals in aquariums and marine parks, circuses and traveling novelty acts, and the trade and keeping of exotic wild animals as pets. We have also conducted or participated in collaborative campaigns to help animals in zoos in numerous other countries around the world.
While we are most often associated with wildlife captivity issues, Zoocheck has also been very active in the protection of wildlife in the wild. In addition to conducting campaigns in Canada to help black, brown and polar bears, whales on the east coast, cormorants in the Great Lakes, wild horses in western Canada and beavers across the country being killed in real or imagined conflict situations, to name a just a few, Zoocheck has also funded anti-poaching and other wildlife protection work in parts of Africa and Asia. We have also provided funding to scientist/advocates to attend key international conferences or to conduct specialized training workshops.
While Zoocheck is not an animal rescue organization, we have taken action to rescue animals in need on a number of occasions, often when other groups have not been successful at doing so. We’ve facilitated the move of primates, big cats, elephants and other animals throughout the years.
A lot of what Zoocheck does is not very exciting and a good deal of it occurs behind the scenes. Conducting research, preparing briefing notes, papers and reports, compiling evidence in the field, consulting lawyers, talking to media, meeting with politicians, attending countless Committee and Council meetings and a multitude of other, often mundane, but critical tasks that are required in campaigns for change are routine for us.
While Zoocheck has been involved in thousands of media stories over the years, including newsmagazine shows and film documentaries, at times some of our initiatives may fly “under the radar” and that is most often purposeful and strategic. If we are working with policy-makers or regulators behind the scenes, are involved in sensitive negotiations or just don’t want our opposition to know what we are doing because they’ll immediately try to counter it, then we will work diligently and quietly until it is appropriate to “go public.” If we didn’t work that way, we could potentially undermine our own efforts.
A completely unseen but consistent aspect of Zoocheck’s work involves helping individuals, organizations and others as they struggle to deal with issues in their own areas. While every case is different with different needs, we have routinely provided material and financial support or expert advice to a wide variety of other initiatives and campaigns from coast to coast in Canada, as well as in the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia. We firmly believe that with a small investment of our time, energy or resources big dividends can, and often do, result, something that has happened throughout the years.
Government relations activities also occur quietly. We regularly dialogue with policy-makers and bureaucrats at the municipal, regional, provincial and federal levels of government on legislative, regulatory and other issues relevant to the range of wildlife protection issues we address.
Zoocheck has also organized hundreds of public awareness events, including workshops, lectures, conferences, symposiums, public meetings and capacity building training sessions, both in Canada and abroad. Some of them have been small events, while others have been attended by thousands of participants. Our speakers and presenters have ranged from local advocates to many of the world’s most famous animal campaigners, authors, scientists and conservationists.
Mixed into many of these campaigns and projects have been legal actions. We’ve fought in the courts on behalf of elephants, bears, whales, cormorants and other creatures. We’ve even argued successfully in the Supreme Court of Canada against the patenting of lifeforms.
Most of Zoocheck’s activities are delivered under the rubric of one or more of the following: investigations, research projects, legislative campaigns, public awareness programs, court actions, animal rescues or capacity building.
Zoocheck has always been a small organization that engages a substantial network of expert contractors who dramatically increase our capacity to conduct campaigns and exert influence. We also regularly partner with a variety of external parties, including some of Canada’s largest law firms. Doing that allows us to have a bigger impact than our size might suggest. Zoocheck is also surgically focused on its campaigns and projects and makes every effort to steer clear of work that doesn’t move us closer to achieving our goals. For the animals, achieving our goals is all that matters.