Ontario: Roadside zoo opens for its 14th season
Zoocheck Canada released a report on Bergeron’s in August 2006:
By PETER WORTHINGTON — Sun Media
The cynical quip that “no good deed goes unpunished” seems to apply to Joe and Pat Bergeron, whose Exotic Animal Sanctuary in Picton opened to the public yesterday for its 14th season (and 20th for caring for “big cats”).
Relations with local politicians have improved considerably and an Ontario Municipal Board hearing at the end of June will rule on fencing and safety measures.
It’s been a tough year for the sanctuary. Last Christmas, two of their magnificent Siberian tigers — Khan and Nogi, both 9 years old — died suddenly and mysteriously. At the same time, goats also began dying, bleeding from the mouth and rectum, which indicated poison.
The OPP were notified, a watch was put on the sanctuary and the mysterious deaths stopped as suddenly as they started.
Kahn and Nogi came to the Bergerons as tiny cubs from British Columbia, both with cataracts, both closer to death than life. They were restored to health, with successful cataract operations.
“When I came out one morning, one was dead,” says Joe. “The next morning the other was dead. Two healthy tigers dying at the same time makes no sense. I have suspicions, but no proof. All I could do was notify the police.”
Some 10 goats, penned close to the road mysteriously died, one or two at a time. Did the Bergerons have an autopsy done?
“No,” says Joe. “We hoped the OPP would order one, but they’ve no funds for that. Frankly, we couldn’t afford it. An autopsy on a tiger is expensive.”
Instead, the OPP investigated and keeps special watch at night. “Animals don’t get out, but people can get in,” says Joe.
Vance Quelly of the OPP confirms Joe’s concerns, and says the Bergeron’s sanctuary is popular among Prince Edward County residents.
Animal rights activists and people who’ve never visited the place tend to regard it as a roadside zoo, which it definitely isn’t. Virtually every one of some 250 animals, including lions, tigers, panthers, leopards, cougars, lynx, two packs of wolves and assorted geese, goats, monkeys and a couple of baboons, has a history of being abused by humans, and rescued from death by the Bergerons.
Until recently Picton Council created problems for the Bergerons, such as prohibiting signs with directions to find the sanctuary. Massive support from voters ultimately persuaded council to unanimously support it.
Four years ago, Sun readers raised some $35,000 to help save the sanctuary from being closed and the animals euthanized, even though there’s no tax deduction on such donations.
Joe has mixed feeling about publicizing the killings.
Publicity attracts crackpots and animal rights zealots, some of whom resent the Bergerons saving abused animals.
Dr. Kay Kehren, veterinarian emeritus of the Metro Toronto Zoo has reported how well adjusted and content the big cats are at the Bergerons.
Most people in Prince Edward County support the Bergerons, whose income is donations and a fee charged in summer to visit the sanctuary.
The local tourist board and Chamber of Commerce see them as valuable to the region, as do the OPP, which finds the sanctuary useful for disposing of road kill of deer, which helps feed the big cats. “In this respect it’s win-win for the animals and the county,” say the police.
The Bergerons have told police of someone they say has harassed, threatened and told lies about them. As if to rebuke critics, last summer Premier Dalton McGuinty issued a special commendation “to thank the Bergeron Exotic Animal Sanctuary for providing a safe and caring home for wild and exotic animals. My colleagues and I appreciate your concern and compassion for the animals’ well-being.”
Tim Trow, president of the Toronto Humane Society, has visited the sanctuary and says “few people do more for animals in their care than the Bergerons.”
When the THS sent 50 ducklings stranded at Pearson to the Bergerons, and an equal number to High Park, all the Bergeron ducks survived, while all the High Park ducks were killed by foxes.
The Bergerons’ 2007 season began yesterday, and is open to the public until early fall.