By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE treatment of a group of swimming pigs in west Grand Bahama has given way to a growing dispute between the operation’s proprietors and local and international animal rights activists, The Tribune has uncovered.
Celebrity Eco Adventures, an expanding aquatic-tourism operation based at Crystal Beach/Deadman’s Reef, Grand Bahama, has come under fire for the way its 19 pigs are housed and treated.
Prominent among the concerns being raised and shared across social media is the “remote rock” where the pigs are kept.
The “rock”, which reportedly doesn’t provide any space for fresh water wallowing (the process of mud bathing) or adequate feeding, has led animal protectionists and activists to call for the outright closure of the operation. One such post by Canadian travel blogger Kennidy Fisher, the person behind the ‘Kennidy From Canada’ travel blog, described a recent trip with Celebrity Eco Adventures as “heartbreaking”.
Ms Fisher, in a Facebook post made over the weekend, lamented her decision to patronise the venture entirely. “I went thinking it would be the same experience and I was completely wrong,” she said, referring to the world-renowned Exuma swimming pigs operation.
“I already went here reading the reviews knowing what I might see but I wanted to see it for myself,” Ms Fisher added. “So these poor pigs are kept in a crate about a (kilometre) off the actual beach where they proceeded to lie to us saying the pigs live their live freely on this beach and they are all wild and blah blah blah.”
Recalling her ordeal further, Ms Fisher said employees of Celebrity Eco Adventures could be seen throwing the pigs into the water — “in huge waves, with current”.
She added: “They made these pigs swim in water and they were not allowed back on the beach… they were fighting for their lives, and people are just trying to take photos with them, it was horrible.”
Ms Fisher said her group opted not to participate any further in the tour in protest, and demanded a refund.
The post garnered over 100 comments up to press time yesterday, with dozens of people backing her account of the operation and others defending Celebrity Eco Adventures.
When contacted yesterday, Grand Bahama Humane Society Executive Director Tip Burrows said her organisation has received several “concerning” reports related to the operation in recent months, mainly the alleged failure to adhere to “general humane standards”.
Ms Burrows said these reports have been forwarded to the Ministry of Tourism, Department of Agriculture and the Grand Bahama Tourism Board, all in an attempt to verify how the operation was established and what regulations it is being made to follow.
She said these had resulted in the temporary relocation of the pigs, an occurrence she touted as a “short-lived success”.
Ms Burrows said Celebrity Eco Adventures, based on information GBHS has gathered, has and continues to place its pigs in “adverse” living conditions.
“We’ve raised issues with the relevant authorities and government agencies. We’ve seen things and we’ve heard things that have left us with so many questions. At the end of the day, we just want to ensure the environment that these animals are in is humane,” Ms Burrows told The Tribune.
“These pigs are on a rock, not a cay and not an island, a rock surrounded by water and opened to all sorts of adverse conditions including sea swells, waves and inclement weather. That, in of itself, is an issue. If this operation is to be permitted long-term; the basics of shade, proper housing, feeding and all that goes with that ought to be looked into and regulated.”
Celebrity Eco Adventures, for its part, maintained it has done everything necessary to ensure its pigs are “taken care of”.
Speaking with The Tribune yesterday, Barbara Darville, one of the company’s lead operators, called social media outcry around its product the “reality” of running an animal-centric business in an animal friendly world.
She said despite reports of the contrary, Celebrity Eco Adventures works to ensure the proper health of its pigs, adding that the conditions its pigs are kept in are in line with recommendations laid out by various government organisations and local veterinarians.
“Our pigs are taken care of; completely. Check our records and speak to the officials here in Grand Bahama, we are doing our part,” she said.
When asked directly about the criticism levied against her company, she added: “We are aware of it. You will have people who are oppose to any business that is making money off of animals. I understand that. There are parts of all of this I feel are malicious toward our business; but I tell myself that once the persons who are genuinely interested in our business are happy with the product, we are doing a great job.”
Mrs Darville continued: “You can’t get lost in the animal rights talk because no matter what, they’ll call it a negative…everything is abuse…everything is a problem. But there is none of that here. We love our pigs and we treat them well.”
A source with direct knowledge of the pigs’ health history told The Tribune yesterday the animals have remained in good health throughout the lifespan of the two-year venture.
Swimming pigs have become a mainstay in the Bahamas.
Back in 2017, the deaths of several of the pigs in Exuma garnered global attention, mainly due to their notoriety and fame.
It was later determined the pigs died from ingesting “sand material,” that despite initial concerns the animals were indirectly poisoned by bad feed or harmful products given to them by guests.
The occurrence reignited talks around the stalled Animal Protection and Control Act, legislation that looks to regulate the protection and treatment of all animals in the Bahamas.
The Bahamas Animal Protection and Control Council, which was establish to develop the Act and promote its contents, has reportedly met only once since the incident.
Kim Aranha, a member of that council and the current president of Bahamas Humane Society in Nassau, yesterday confirmed that council has called for standard regulations across the “swimming pigs” industry, which she noted has “sprung up and become a real problem”.
“These things are everywhere in the Bahamas now and everyone wants to know who is governing this to ensure these pigs are being treated well. This is simple, there needs to be inspection, monitoring and some level of regulation,” she said.
“We just need clarity. Hopefully we get that soon.”