A zoo without monkeys

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1994:

GRANBY, Quebec––Attracting more than half a
million visitors a year, housing over 1,000 specimens of 226
species, and generating an annual budget of $4.5 million, the
Granby Zoo is among the biggest wholly self-financed zoos in
the world. The fiscal pressure is intense and unrelenting. Yet
under general manager Pierre Cartier, the zoo has become a
model of rapid self-improvement by pursuing policies that
previous administrations would have called economic suicide.
In less than five years Cartier doubled admission prices, made
carnival rides free with a general admission ticket and moved
them all away from the animal areas, exponentially multiplied
capital spending, cut the size of the collection in half, and,
most audaciously, closed the primate exhibits for three years,
which were the zoo’s top attraction.

“For three years, we were a zoo without monkeys,”
Cartier smiles. “Everyone said we were crazy, but it was nec-
essary to close the monkey exhibits to change the character of
the zoo. The zoo had become a place that attracted the wrong
sort of crowd, with the wrong mentality. When we got rid of
the people who came to throw peanuts at the monkeys, we
were able to reorient our focus toward education and conser-
vation. We rebuilt our audience by focussing upon school-
children and families. Now we are a place where families
come together to spend the entire day. The admission is high,
but when the rides are included, it is not so high, and the
most important thing is that we can now say with pride that we
are presenting a first-class educational exhibit.”
Cartier came to the zoo from a background in the
textile industry, with no previous zoo experience––and not
even any related background. That, he explains, was a plus.
“I was able to look at things with a clean slate,” he says. “I
was able to see that it was necessary to get rid of all the per-
sonnel who had the old ‘zoo’ attitude––that the animals had to
be kept in cages that were a certain kind and had to be disci-
plined in a certain way, just because that was what they had
always done before.”
Inspecting other zoos to see how they did things,
Cartier quickly saw that, “The better conditions were for the
animals, the bigger the crowds, because the more often peo-
ple came back.” Granby Zoo conditions were notoriously bad,
and had been bad for decades.
“When I went to the Granby Zoo in the 1950s,”
recalls Sherbrooke Record editor Charles Bury, “it was a
dusty, smelly place,” consisting of “a few steel-fenced enclo-
sures surrounding some overheated, tired-looking, slighly
mangy deer and lions, and a cage of ratty raccoons.”
Begun as a hobby by longtime Granby mayor
Horace Boivin in 1944, the zoo relocated twice before the
local Catholic diocese donated the first 60 acres of the present
100-acre site in 1953, when the Granby Zoological Society
was formally incorporated. Attractive landscaping and facili-
ties that were considered spacious for the time initially drew
praise. But the zoo grew with the town, whose population
increased tenfold in 40 years. Boivin traveled around the
world to boost Granby––and everywhere he went, he visited
the local zoo, where he would solicit gifts of animals for addi-
tion to the Granby collection.
Unfortunately, the collection outgrew the facility,
and the expertise of the staff. As zoo literature admits, “The
zoo attendants soon were completely overwhelmed and prayed
that the boss would limit his trips.”
But conditions got much worse before they
improved. By 1984 the zoo had become so crowded that a
bear was kept in a cage too small for him to stand upright.
Desperate to sell enough tickets to feed the collection, the
management placed heavy emphasis upon displaying as many
exotic creatures as possible, hyping each new addition with a
barrage of advertising. The standard of care was low, as for-
mer staff veterinarian Louise Beaudoin documented with her
book Z o o, published around the same time that the former
management got into trouble for hiring a smuggler to bootleg
snakes from the U.S., to populate a new reptile house after the
Bronx Zoo deemed the facility so substandard that it refused
to sell specimens to Granby. Those scandals were barely set-
tled when the zoo imported an infant gorilla through a loop-
hole in the Convention on International Trade in Exotic
Species, touching off an international furor.
By 1988, when Cartier was hired, the directors real-
ized the Granby Zoo would have to take another direction.
Their objective became earning accreditation from the
American Society of Zoological Parks and Aquariums, a
process that took more than three years, involving such inten-
sive expansion and renovation that the facility the ANIMAL
PEOPLE editor extensively documented as a Record reporter
was virtually unrecognizable a decade later. Most of the ani-
mals now have at least twice as much space as then. The
facilities are much more naturalistic and diversified. And the
crowds have quadrupled. As Cartier emphasizes, “People are
sensitive to the animals now. If the animals are unhappy, the
visitors sense this. Happy animals bring them back.”
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