The dolphin pool at Taman Safari. Image source: http://mixedupalready.com When it comes to the use of wild animals for entertainment, WAZA's code stipulates:
"these presentations must:-
(a) deliver a sound conservation message, or be of other educational value,
(b) focus on natural behaviour,
(c) not demean or trivialise the animal in any way."
One could be forgiven for questioning what educational message dolphins putting on an elaborately staged and choreographed show at Georgia Aquarium is communicating. Or what type of 'natural behaviour' elephants playing basketball under threat from men with bullhooks at African Lion Safari in Canada is replicating.
Furthermore, WAZA's code of ethics opposes: " collecting for, or stocking of animal exhibits, in particular aquariums, with the expectation of high mortality."
However, when Taiwan Aquarium imported six wild-caught belugas and half of them died, then imported another four that all died, it was the Taiwanese government that stepped in to prevent them importing more, not WAZA.
In perhaps one of the most blatant contraventions of WAZA's own rules, the organisation also apparently opposes:
"cruel and non-selective methods of taking animals from the wild".
Despite this, there is evidence that certain WAZA institutional members purchase dolphins from the particularly horrific, and globally condemned Taiji drive hunts. As for association members, 55% of aquariums in JAZA (WAZA's association member in Japan) purchase Taiji dolphins for entertainment shows.
Despite all of WAZA's appealing words and impressive sounding code of ethics, there is little to back up either. WAZA claims that all of its members must adhere to the set of standards that have been outlined and dissected above. But it does nothing to ensure that even the most basic welfare standards are met. Which is just not good enough – especially because WAZA receives public donations and enjoys tax-exempt status.
It is distressing for those who visit these zoos and aquariums - believing them to be of a high, international standard because of their WAZA membership - to find animals being grossly neglected and mistreated.
A code of ethics means nothing, unless WAZA is willing to enforce it.