Jays criticized by PETA after lion cubs visit

The Blue Jays have drawn criticism from PETA for a seemingly innocent team bonding exercise. (Instagram/lamelaza_7)

BALTIMORE – A seemingly innocent team bonding exercise by the Toronto Blue Jays involving a visit from lion and tiger cubs last week drew criticism from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on Monday as "an exploitative stunt" that is "inherently cruel and dangerous."

In a letter sent to team president Paul Beeston, GM Alex Anthopoulos and manager John Gibbons that was also distributed to media, Delcianna Winder, PETA Foundation’s deputy general counsel, also urged the club to refrain from engaging in such activity again.

"May I please hear that you have made the compassionate decision to stop using wild animals for pre-game activities or any other purpose?" her letter concludes. "PETA’s members are anxious for an update."

PETA’s protestations caught the Blue Jays by surprise and appeared to draw them into an ongoing dispute between the animal rights group and the Bowmanville Zoo, whose handlers brought the cubs to the Rogers Centre last Wednesday and was criticized harshly in the letter.

Gibbons said little about the matter other than that his team enjoyed interacting with the animals, while Mark Buehrle, who met one of the zoo’s handlers at a Toronto FC game Aug. 23 and arranged the visit, dismissed any suggestions of animal cruelty.

"You can’t please everybody," said Buehrle, who is active in dog-rescue activities. "I think this is pretty dumb that we bring these tigers and people are sitting there saying animal abuse and all this other crap. … Some people think it’s cool and some people just want to mouth off and say stupid stuff. It doesn’t bother me at all."

Prior to the Blue Jays clubhouse visit from the cubs, Buehrle and his family visited the Bowmanville Zoo where they played with the animals. He described them "as little puppies, they nibble on you, kind of scratch, but I wasn’t afraid one of them was going to go crazy and attack somebody."

In its letter, PETA said such cubs "are torn away from their mothers shortly after birth and spend their lives in tiny cages, deprived of all that is natural and important to them. Once they get bigger and can no longer be used for public interactions, they are usually cast off and sent to seedy roadside zoos or other substandard facilities or negligently kept as dangerous “pets” by private owners who cannot fulfill even their most basic needs. Big cats may even be killed in order to sell their meat, skins, organs, and other body parts."

On its website, Bowmanville Zoo says, "we take our responsibilities seriously. We have over 60 highly trained, full-time staff, who care for and love our animals. We are a member of CAZA (Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums), and follow all CAZA health and safety protocols. We participate in breeding programs for endangered species, fund studies in the wild, and conduct original research. In short, we set the bar when it comes to stewardship of zoo animals."

Buehrle said he’s received criticism in the past for being a dog advocate while also hunting during the off-season.

"I’ve heard it in the past through people and through groups, ‘How can you sit there and save dogs and do all this stuff, donate money to dog-saving stuff and then you go kill animals,’" he relayed. "To me dogs are your pets in houses. There are hunting stores, people buy licences, that’s legal, I’m not doing anything illegal."

As for any issues with the cubs, he said: "Don’t go after me, I didn’t do it."

The incident is the second time the Blue Jays have caught PETA’s eye this season. Back in July, the organization listed the Rogers Centre ninth in a ranking of vegetarian-friendly stadiums in the majors.

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