A private zoo in Langley has installed heaters in the barn that houses its Masai giraffes, under orders from the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals after two giraffes died just days apart during a cold spell in early December.
"We complied with the SPCA's order to provide heat for our giraffes, but we've kept giraffes in that barn for 10 years without any heat, and they've been fine in much colder winters," said Gordon Blankstein, founder of Mountain View Conservation Centre.
A necropsy report released last week cited inadequate diet and cold conditions as the cause of death of an adult giraffe that died at the centre in December. It showed the giraffe suffered from peracute mortality syndrome.
Bruce Burton, a veterinarian for Mountain View, describes PMS as a sudden, inexplicable death in giraffes maintained in temperate climates, such as the Lower Mainland.
"In this case, it appears the animal was choosing not to eat the protein-rich alfalfa hay, and was instead eating only grains," Dr. Burton said.
"This changes the bacterial composition in the animal's stomach, and disables them from properly laying down fat."
Dr. Burton explained that animals with PMS can die suddenly from any stress, such as temperature changes.
The necropsy for the baby giraffe, which also died at the facility in December, has not yet been released.
The B.C. SPCA was first alerted to issues at Mountain View Conservation Centre by a group of former employees in late November. "The giraffes didn't appear to be underweight, and their body condition appeared to be normal, but the barn was very cold," said Eileen Dreever, the SPCA's senior animal protection officer heading the investigation. "I had to issue an order with respect to heating in the barn because it was so cold."
Dr. Burton said a few simple changes could have prevented the death of the giraffes at Mountain View.
"You need a diet that is as good as possible, good ventilation, insulation and warm housing. That's all you need," he said.
The Vancouver Humane Society is calling for a formal investigation into the case by the BC Ministry of Environment. It is also calling for stricter regulations for zoos and conservation centres in the province.
"We can't believe a facility that claims to be one of the top conservation centres in Canada didn't provide heat during a cold snap to tropical animals like these giraffes," said Peter Fricker, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Humane Society.
The BC SPCA has issued a number of orders for Mountain View since the investigation began two months ago. Ms. Dreever said the probe has been difficult.
"We are dealing with exotic animals and have been in touch with experts from around the world to gain advice on this case," she said.
As yet, no charges of animal cruelty or neglect have been laid.