Leopard cubs’ health a priority amidst zoo strike
By: Lucia Yglesias and Sarah Watson
The Toronto Zoo released the first glimpse of its newborn clouded leopard cubs in a video on its YouTube channel Tuesday.
This comes while the zoo and its union are at an impasse in a labour dispute, which has led to a strike and a temporary closure of the zoo.
Christine McKenzie, the president of CUPE Local 1600, the union that represents Toronto Zoo workers, said she is concerned for the baby animals because the three veterinarians on staff will not be able to handle the newborns.
“The people in there right now don’t have the skills to take care of these babies. So, we’re very anxious to get back to work as soon as possible,” she said.
Jennifer Tracey, the zoo’s senior director of marketing, communications and partnerships, said they regularly have three full-time veterinarians.
“Then we have staff that used to work in wildlife health centres themselves,” Tracey said.
Despite their disagreements, the animals are still the priority for both parties.
When one of the newborn clouded leopards wasn’t eating, a veterinary technician on strike got permission to help the struggling cub.
“She had to go in and I think she likely saved that cub’s life,” McKenzie said.
Tracey agrees the strike should not affect the feline’s welfare.
“It goes to show that regardless of what labour dispute is happening, people put things aside, and it’s all about the animals,” she said.
The new members of the Toronto Zoo, three snow leopards and two clouded leopard cubs, joined five cheetah cubs born at the end of April.
“It’s kind of the year of the cat here right now,” Tracey said.
She said the zoo isn’t yet missing the business the baby animals could have attracted.
“No one would be able to see them for several months, because they’d be denned up with their moms,” she said.
However, the closure is affecting hundreds of people unable to visit one of the main attractions in the city.
Sabrina Patenaude is an Ottawa mother who booked a trip to Toronto for her and her three-year-old son to visit the zoo. She purchased her Citypass in November.
“The hotel and train tickets are already paid and non-refundable,” Patenaude said. “My son was extremely excited. I haven’t told him we aren’t going yet.
“He really loves penguins so I am waiting until last minute to break it to him,” she said.
The Toronto Zoo is also known for its conservation and research. McKenzie said she imagines that work cannot continue without vital staff.
“People don’t expect zoos to be cheap places of entertainment where animals sit behind bars. They expect them to be places where they are actively working, not only to care for our own animals, but to be working to save the species in the wild,” she said.
“Our position is that you cannot do that by weakening our labour force,” McKenzie said.
Weekend talks between CUPE 1600 and the Toronto Zoo ended in a stalemate with no further talks scheduled.
The Toronto Zoo presented a proposal which included job security for current employees in the face of contracting out, while future hires would have to work 11 cumulative years to qualify for that security.
McKenzie said they refused this proposal because it would “abandon” the next generation of zoo employees.
“We don’t bargain two tier contracts because they are meant to be a dangling carrot, something an employer uses to get employees to snap up a deal quickly because they think they are protecting themselves,” she said.
Tracey maintains the offer was fair.
“That is currently better than any other city of Toronto permanent employee has,” she said.