Briefing notes and Q & A
Re: Toronto Sun Story - Reindeer written by Mike Strobel
The Zoo’s position
The Toronto Zoo is a highly respected and accredited conservation, education and
research centre in Canada and North America. As a unique wildlife experience, we
inspire people to live in ways that promote the well being of the natural world. We
participate in over 40 species survival programs and support many international wildlife
projects. In addition, the Zoo offers comprehensive educational programs from JK to
post-graduate studies in partnership with respected educational institutions.
We agree that the issue of euthanasia of animals is a very difficult and sensitive practice
that must not be done without careful reflection and research of alternatives. It is not a
decision that is made lightly by any zoo or wildlife organization, including humane
societies and various government agencies. It is not the number one option, but the last
option. Mr. Strobel’s story shows how all Toronto Zoo staff is passionate about animal
welfare and conservation and how important it is to ensure that there is responsible
management of the Zoo’s animal population. All Zoo staff take this responsibility very
seriously and agonize over the decisions affecting the animals’ welfare and future
viability. It is unfortunate that Mr. Strobel’s story is sensational and does not present a
complete and balanced report on the issue.
The Zoo is obligated to responsibly regulate the size of their animal populations with the
- Relocation to other zoos or sanctuaries:
- Movement of cervids across international and provincial borders is highly
restricted now due to chronic wasting diseases evident in wild populations. (The
Zoo’s population does not have this disease.)
- The Zoo has two 4 year old male reindeer off-exhibit that have been advertised on
a surplus list in North America and worldwide to all accredited facilities for the
last 3 years. No placement has been found.
- It is our responsibility to ensure that any animals are only transferred to
authorized/accredited facilities that satisfy the standards of care and possess the
necessary permits. For a variety of reasons commercial farms or roadside zoos do
- Reintroduce to wild:
- These are domesticated animals and cannot be released in the wild. There is no
‘wild’ for reindeer.
- Castrated males will continue to fight and may kill each other. It is not ideal to
hold reindeer off-exhibit on their own when they are a social and herd animal.
Castration still does not support the need for a genetically diverse herd - it only
postpones the issue and you end up with a herd of sterile males and postreproductive
- Reproductive control:
- Available contraceptive methods have not proven successful for this species and
the effect of long-term use is yet unknown.
When none of these measures are feasible without causing stress or impacting upon
group behaviour, then individual animals should be humanely put down in a fear-free
environment. The humane culling of animals should take place at times that approximate
natural processes of “biological crossroads” such as birth, weaning or the leaving of the
The Zoo has had a euthanasia policy since the 1970’s. The policy has been reviewed and
upgraded as guidelines have been developed over the years by the Association of Zoos
and Aquariums (AZA) and the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA).
Specific policies have been in place for a number of years providing for euthanasia at
birth for population control of muntjac deer, mara and capybara. This policy for
population management through euthanasia was extended to reindeer after a thorough
review and approval by Zoo staff and management, with oversight by civilian experts.
The updated euthanasia policy was endorsed by the Board of Management of the Toronto
Zoo in June 2007.
Q. Why the need to euthanize two male reindeer?
A. There is a comprehensive collection plan for the reindeer at the Toronto Zoo. The herd
needs to continue to be genetically viable without inbreeding. The male offspring were all
related to the breeding male so there is a need to breed the female reindeer to a new male
source to provide greater genetic diversity and reduce inbreeding in the herd.
Q. Were other options considered?
A. Yes. All options were properly investigated, a formal review process followed and the
necessary approvals obtained. Please see the options outlined under “The Zoo’s
Position”. The Zoo received offers from a variety of facilities after the issue became
Q. Why breed these female European reindeer?
A. For many years the Zoo has been involved working with other universities and
institutions in reproductive research and breeding of endangered species. The Zoo has an
aging population of reindeer (lifespan typically 12 years). New genetics are required for
the herd. It is best for herds to have reproductive animals and promote natural behaviours.
But the sex of any neonates born cannot be controlled.
Q. Would sperm sorting be available in the future to help manage reindeer
A. Yes. This science is in its infancy and is limited to a few animal species at present.
With expanded research in the relatively new science of sperm sorting to select in
advance the desired sex of animals, in the future this may be a useful alternative and
eliminate the need for culling.
Q. Has the Zoo always had a euthanasia policy?
A. The Zoo has had a policy since the 1970’s. The policy has been reviewed and
upgraded as guidelines have been developed over the years by AZA and CAZA. Specific
policies have been in place for a number of years providing for euthanasia at birth for
population control of muntjac deer, mara and capybara. This policy for population
management through euthanasia was extended to reindeer after a thorough review and
approval by Zoo staff and management, with oversight by civilian experts. The updated
euthanasia policy was endorsed by the Board of Management of the Toronto Zoo in June
The Toronto Zoo’s Board of Management has agreed that culling is a responsible, last
resort, practice for population management.
All Animal Care staff is made aware when they are hired and in in-service training
programs. When our euthanasia policy was updated 2 years ago, workshops were held
with staff and input sought on the policy.
Q. Was another male reindeer born?
A. A male reindeer calf was born on Sunday, May 4, 2008. This calf will remain with the
herd for approximately a year until it is weaned from its mother. At that time, the reindeer
will be relocated to the Bowmanville Zoo, a CAZA accredited privately-owned zoo.
The Bowmanville Zoo will also be taking two 4 year old male reindeer that have been
advertised internationally for three years on the Toronto Zoo’s surplus list. The
Bowmanville herd recently was reduced in size due to the recent deaths of older reindeer,
thereby freeing up paddock and holding space for three new animals. Once all of the
necessary applications, veterinary checks and permits have been completed and
approved, the animals will be transferred to this new location. This process will take up
to a few months to complete.