Animal activists around the world roared in disbelief at the words spat by the owner of the Bowmanville Zoo, Michael Hackenbeger, towards Austin, a trained baboon, on live television in late August.
Unfortunately for Hackenberger, this is not the first time he has been accused of treating his animals poorly. In 2013, the Bowmanville Zoo was rated the second worst zoo in North America for elephants.
In Defense of Animals (IDA) also accused the Bowmanville Zoo of treating Limba, the zoo’s only elephant at the time, extremely poorly and cruelly. In early December of 2013, the 50-year-old elephant was euthanized after facing a battle with multiple tumours spread on her spleen and abdomen.
Hackenberger’s foul mouth began one of the top trending stories in Canada. “We were the number one trending story in Canada, over the Prime Minister’s falling support,” says Hackenberger.
Although baboons do not speak English, Hackenberger was accused of hurting the animal’s feelings.
Hackenberger explains that the reasoning behind his foul mouth had to do with multiple factors including Austin, the baboon, misbehaving and being impatient. “It’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation,” says Hackenberger.
According to Hackenberger, Austin had been riding a miniature pony in Quebec City the week before his television appearance. While the pony was running, Austin kept jumping off, putting both himself and the pony in danger.
Hackenberger says that Austin and the pony arrived on the set of Breakfast Television at 4 a.m. on August 28th. Their live appearance was more than four hours later. Once ready to perform, Austin put himself and the pony in danger again by deciding to bail once the pony had reached a high speed.
It did not take long for the news of the zookeeper’s lapse of reason to spread across social media. The Bowmanville Zoo’s Facebook page and business phone was bombarded with threats and hateful messages.
“By the end of the day, we had far more positives than we had negatives,” says Hackenberger when reflecting on the event.
Hackenberger took to his Facebook page the day after the unfortunate event to express his love for Austin and the rest of his animals at the Bowmanville Zoo.
It is arguable that what Hackenberger called the baboon is no worse than the words pet owners use when they are angry at their dogs and cats. But Hackenberger believes had he used another word, such as “bugger” or “bastard,” the whole issue would have blown over much quicker.
Hackenberger promises that from now on, he will stick to using “B-words,” instead of “C-words.”