One charged in connection with June zebra herd seizure as Sask. government gives funds to Saskatoon zoo for winter barn

Rob O’Flanagan/Saskatoon StarPhoenix The Saskatoon Forestry Farm and Zoo is providing accommodations for five zebras that were removed from a rural Saskatchewan location in mid-June. Photo taken June 30, 2023 in Saskatoon

Thia James

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The provincial government is providing $120,000 in 2023-24 for the care and maintenance of a herd of zebras staying at the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo since their seizure earlier this year.

Conservation officers seized the five adult plains zebrasequus quagga — from a rural property on June 13 during an investigation under Saskatchewan’s captive wildlife regulations.

No further information about their ownership, or the location from which the animals were seized, has been released.

The herd was taken to the Saskatoon zoo, the only facility in the province accredited by Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA).

The Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety said in a statement that a “Saskatchewan resident” is charged with several offences including importing, possessing and holding zebras captive without required licences under the captive wildlife regulations and the Wildlife Act.

The accused, who the province later identified as Nicholas Hazell, is scheduled to appear in Indian Head provincial court circuit point on Nov. 7.

“The animals will be cared for at the Forestry Farm until the legal process reaches its conclusion, at which time decisions about their long-term accommodations can be made,” the ministry said in its statement.

Meanwhile, the money from the province will go toward the development of a winter enclosure for the zebras at the zoo, and their ongoing care.

“Zebras cannot safely live outdoors in Saskatchewan winter conditions, and the zoo’s current heated facility is not large enough to appropriately accommodate them,” the ministry said.

A report on the agenda for Wednesday’s Saskatoon city council meeting recommends approving the post-budget capital project, which will be fully funded by the province. An extension to the zoo’s barn will be constructed.

Zoo manager Jeff Mitchell said in an interview that the zebras have access to their barn at all times, and it’s being kept warmer. The zebras can go in or out at up to -5 C or -6 C.

Once temperatures reach -10 C or below, they can’t go outside and will stay in the heated barn, Mitchell said.

Since arriving, the zebras have been adjusting to their environment. In their first few weeks, they were a little “skittish” but they’ve settled down, Mitchell said. Staff have been working with them, training them and getting them used to being approached.

Mitchell said each zebra reacts to staff differently: one male is always excited to interact, while another wants to interact but is cautious; two females don’t really want to get close.

The zoo has relied on professionals across Canada and has contacted facilities in the United States; Mitchell said the collaboration to develop husbandry protocols and procedures to take care of the zebras has been good.

“We’re excited to be able to work with them and we just are going to continue to do our best to give them an enriching, rewarding life while they’re here in Saskatchewan.”