Animal Liberation NSW calls for ban on retail giant Westfield to ban school holiday petting zoos

ANIMAL Liberation NSW has launched a campaign to close “horrific and cruel” petting zoos for children at shopping centres.

It is pressuring retail giant Westfield to abandon the popular school holiday attractions because of the distress caused to animals by children handling them in an alien environment.

Hazel Stephens, a director of Animal Liberation NSW, said 4500 people had signed a petition calling on Westfield Parramatta to stop the zoos.

Ms Stephens said a shopping centre was no place for animals and pointed to video of a petting zoo at Parramatta at Easter which showed the “cruelty inflicted on animals”.

“Children were seen picking up chicks and dropping them. Staff didn’t stop them,” she said.

“There was no place for animals to retreat to where the public could not get to them.

“Water containers were filthy and, in many cases, almost impossible for animals to access as they were unsuitable.

“There was no awareness of the stresses the animals were under, clearly demonstrated by the distress noises the chicks were making and the behaviour of the rabbits, normally only shown when they feel their life is at risk from a predator, indicating they were terrified.”

A Westfield spokeswoman said the animals at Parramatta were under the care of a veterinary nurse who guided customers in how to handle the animals.

“Westfield Parramatta did not receive any complaints about the petting zoo at Easter, but received a great deal of positive feedback from the community,” she said.

But Westfield has advised Ms Stephens it would not be holding a petting zoo at Parramatta these school holidays.

Asked if it was considering permanently banning petting zoos from its centres nationally in response to the concerns, the spokeswoman said: “I don’t have the detail on that but it is up to each centre what event they activate for each school holiday period.”

The operator of the petting zoo at Parramatta, RegProm Marketing, said it had been registered with the Department of Primary Industries for 23 years.

“We’ve never had a single issue or problem with our animals,” said RegProm general manager Liz Evans.

“They are in absolutely perfect condition and are perfectly looked after by highly qualified staff.

“Really, it is a bit sad that someone who doesn’t have any qualifications can try something like this just to make a bit of a name for themselves.”

Ms Stephens said the animals at Parramatta were visibly distressed by the noise, by being handled by children, and by inappropriate enclosures.
Her other concerns included the distance the animals travelled back to the farm at Glenorie each day, the flooring and the lack of place of respite from human attention for some of the animals.

“They had other animals, baby lambs — the flooring was completely unsuitable for them. They were having to walk quite tentatively and they were there for a week.

“They are only baby animals and they will end up with considerable damage to their joints — imagine if we were ice skating for a week, it’s gonna hurt.”

Westfield’s general manager Andy Hedges responded directly to Ms Stephen’s concerns on August 29 and advised her that any concerns about animal welfare should be reported to the relevant authorities, the Department of Primary Industries and the RSPCA.

Ms Stephens has not made a formal complaint report to the DPI or the RSPCA.

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