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Marineland did not provide adequate water source to bear cubs, Ontario alleges

A protestor dressed as a walrus stands outside Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont., on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Marineland failed to provide three bear cubs permanent and adequate water sources or climbing structures, Ontario alleges in court documents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Lupul

Marineland failed to provide three bear cubs permanent and adequate water sources as well as climbing structures, Ontario alleges in court documents.

Animal Welfare Services, the provincial inspectorate that enforces animal cruelty laws, laid three charges against the Niagara Falls, Ont., tourist attraction on Tuesday for failing to comply with an order related to the care of three young American black bears.

Marineland denied any wrongdoing.

"Marineland has always provided and continues to provide excellent care that meets and exceeds provincial animal welfare laws and regulations," the park said in an email to The Canadian Press.

Marineland said it looks forward to defending itself in court.

The park failed to comply with part of an order "by not providing the three bears access to water sources such as pools, streams or ponds that is permanent and has an adequate filtration system to maintain institutional water quality parameters or is designed to allow easy draining, cleaning and refilling at suitable intervals to ensure water remains potable," alleged Nicole Pratt, a senior investigator with Animal Welfare Services, which is part of the Ministry of the Solicitor General.

Marineland failed to comply with that order between Sept. 11, 2021 and Feb. 18, 2022, the province alleged.

A second charge alleges the park failed to comply with another part of the order "by not providing the three bears access to the vertical space available within the enclosure by providing climbing structures that promote natural locomotion patterns for the bears." 

Marineland did not respond to questions about those two charges.

The province said the third charge relates to the size of the bears' enclosures. 

On that charge, the province alleges Marineland did not house the bears properly between June 18, 2021, and Feb. 18, 2022. 

The province wanted the park to house all three bears in a 10,000-square-foot enclosure, or 5,000 square feet for each bear if they were to live alone.

"We instead opted to release the bears to a sanctuary," Marineland said. "We understand they remain healthy in their new homes."

The park said the bears were healthy and always under veterinary care.

The charges against Marineland have been laid under a section of the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act that allows an inspector to issue an order to help animals that may be in distress. The facility must comply with the order or otherwise face charges.

Failing to comply with an order carries a penalty up to $75,000 or up to six months in jail.

The province launched its investigation into the treatment of bears at Marineland after an employee came forward in February 2020 saying she saved three newborn bears from the bear den.

Maddie Black, who no longer works at Marineland, told The Canadian Press at the time she could not save a fourth cub. Marineland said then that the adult bears were protecting that fourth bear. The fate of that cub is not known. 

Marineland said it had 16 adult bears at the time and that the cubs were not in any physical danger, but they worried if the cubs' mother, or mothers, could care for the cubs. 

The park said the births were accidental, due to a birth-control failure. 

In 2013, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ordered Marineland to build separate habitats to protect bear cubs from being mauled and devoured by adult males. Marineland said it would develop a birth control program, which the OSPCA, who enforced anti-cruelty laws, agreed to. The park said it complied with the order by using birth control injections.

In 2016, the OSPCA charged Marineland with one count of failing to comply with the prescribed standards of care for its bears.

There were 35 American black bears at the park then. The OSPCA alleged the park failed to provide adequate and appropriate food and water for them.

The Crown later dropped those charges, saying there was no reasonable chance for a conviction.

Marineland houses a mix of marine and land animals. 

An unknown number of bears now live in an enclosure with a large den and a moat.

Visitors can feed the bears corn pops from atop an overlooking terrace.

Since January 2020, Animal Welfare Services anti-cruelty officers have been inspecting Marineland regularly, although details of the ongoing probe remain secret.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2023. 

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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