High Park Zoo loses one of its old­est an­i­mals

Zoo was tem­po­rar­ily closed af­ter staff were alerted that Al­berta the bi­son had died

Toronto Star - - GREATER TORONTO - PETER GOF­FIN STAFF RE­PORTER

On her first visit to the High Park Zoo on Satur­day, Chantrey Casey was greeted by a dead bi­son.

It was a poor in­tro­duc­tion to the 124-year-old at­trac­tion. It left Casey say­ing the place should be closed.

“The bi­son’s legs were stick­ing straight out, very ab­nor­mally. Its body didn’t look limp, it looked stiff,” she said.

The late bi­son, known as Al­berta, was one of the zoo’s old­est an­i­mals. She was in good health but had been lethar­gic in the days lead­ing up to her death, said Toronto Parks, Forestry and Re­cre­ation spokesper­son Matthew Cut­ler. The zoo didn’t pro­vide the bi­son’s ex­act age.

He said the pub­lic alerted staff to the dead an­i­mal and a post-mortem will be done to learn more.

Al­though the zoo was closed late Satur­day af­ter­noon to re­move the bi­son, 24 hours later, it was teem­ing with fam­i­lies wait­ing to glimpse its emus, yaks and rein­deer.

The bi­son’s death was the lat­est in a se­ries of high-pro­file in­ci­dents — from fi­nan­cial un­cer­tainty to an­i­mal es­capes — that have put High Park Zoo in the head­lines.

In 2015, a pea­cock got loose, caus­ing a sen­sa­tion on rooftops around nearby Ron­ces­valles Ave. In 2016, two capy­baras bolted, lead­ing to a $15,000 city­wide search.

On Satur­day, Casey posted a photo of the dead bi­son on Face­book, urg­ing her friends to “get this place shut down.” She told the Star on Sun­day that she was unim­pressed with park staff’s han­dling of Al­berta’s death.

She said she called Toronto’s 311 hot­line at 3:15 p.m. but, ac­cord­ing to Cut­ler, the zoo was not closed to deal with the bi­son un­til 4:30 p.m.

Vis­i­tors con­tin­ued to walk by the bi­son pen even af­ter the zoo was sup­pos­edly closed, Casey said. And she said she was frus­trated by the lack of staff around when she first no­ticed the bi­son was dead.

In 2011, High Park Zoo al­most lost its mu­nic­i­pal fund­ing in a cost-cut­ting bid by Mayor Rob Ford but a pub­lic out­cry prompted the city to main­tain the at­trac­tion.

Cut­ler said the zoo at­tracts about 600,000 vis­its a year.

At mid­day Sun­day, kids squealed with laugh­ter as zookeep­ers in­vited them to feed lla­mas, pet rab­bits and get close to the famed capy­bara ba­bies.

Paul Leven­tis and Danielle Wang had brought their kids to High Park for a play date. Leven­tis said any time his fam­ily vis­its the park, they spend at least 20 min­utes look­ing at the an­i­mals.

“It’s a pretty unique (at­trac­tion),” Leven­tis said.

And it’s great to have it right in the city, since the Toronto Zoo is so far away, Wang added.

Anieza Ka­caj, 9, was snap­ping pictures of her fam­ily in front of deer and sheep.

She and her brothers Ale­sio, 13, and Amadeo, 5, had walked through the en­tire zoo but Anieza was still ex­cited about the rab­bits by the zoo’s en­trance.

“It’s so nice that they brought all these an­i­mals here,” Anieza said.

“These an­i­mals are so spread out around the world. And it’s free and so many places you have to pay to see an­i­mals,” Anieza added.

Ted Mar­ras lives within walk­ing dis­tance of High Park. He said he used to come to the zoo more of­ten when his son was younger, but he still stops by on week­end strolls.

“It’s fan­tas­tic to see kids hav­ing a blast, look­ing at the an­i­mals and learn­ing about the an­i­mals,” he said. With files from Alanna Rizza

VINCE TALOTTA/TORONTO STAR

A bi­son’s death is the lat­est in a se­ries of high-pro­file in­ci­dents that have put High Park Zoo in the head­lines.

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