A waterskiing squirrel by the name of Twiggy has found herself at the centre of controversy during one of the country’s largest boat shows being held this week in Vancouver.
Twiggy, an eastern grey squirrel, has been entertaining children about the importance of water safety – all while riding small waves on a pair of water skis, for 40 years. It’s one of the featured attractions at this year’s Vancouver International Boat Show, which sees roughly 30,000 boat enthusiasts.
But animal activists with Life Force Society are calling for an end to “these types of animal exploitation.”
The group says that the show should be prohibited as it goes against Vancouver’s bylaws.
“Using wildlife under the guise of ‘water safety’ is not as effective or educational as using consenting human actors,” activist Peter Hamilton said in a news release. “It is about human safety!”
In an email to Black Press Media, a city staff member said that because the eastern grey squirrel is not native to B.C., it is not technically considered wildlife under city bylaws. However, there is a bylaw that does prohibit businesses from using rodents in competitions, exhibitions, performances and events.
The city said it is investigating the matter.
Twiggy was recently told she cannot return to Toronto after performing at a similar event last month, as the city has since passed a new bylaw which bans keeping a squirrel in “captivity.”
A spokesperson with Laura Ballance Media Group, which is speaking on behalf of the Vancouver boat show, said in an emailed statement that organizers obtained and complied with all federal licensing required for Twiggy to come to town, including veterinary oversight of the squirrel.
“The presentation has been very well received by the children who it is designed to educate about water and life jacket safety as well as their parents, and we have had nothing but positive feedback,” Krystle Landert told Black Press Media.
“One of the core goals of the show, which provides a crucial showcase for the hundreds of small, largely family owned businesses across our province, is to educate our guests about water safety.”
This isn’t the first time the Vancouver-based boat show has included animals – in 1967, organizers placed a southern resident killer whale named Walter in a pool for the duration of the event. After the show was over, the whale was sold to the Vancouver Aquarium Society and renamed as Skana.