Yes, it should be shut down
No, it should not be shut down
345 total votes.
By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
THE owner of an eco-tour company in Grand Bahama that has come under fire over concerns of how it houses its “swimming pigs” insisted yesterday that the tour operation is “above board.”
Celebrity Eco-Adventures proprietor Barbara Darville said the treatment of some 20 swimming pigs that are the star attraction of their daily tours ensures they are healthy, well kept, and being properly housed and cared for.
Earlier this week, The Tribune reported that there were concerns being raised and shared across social media about the “remote rock” where the pigs are kept.
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”.
However Mrs Darville dismissed concerns of animal cruelty and refuted Ms Fisher’s account of her recent experience with the company. The Tribune was also invited to see the company’s tour operation yesterday.
“She (Ms Fisher) was here on Sunday and did not even go out on the tour,” Mrs Darville said. “We don’t have anything to hide here; everything is open and above board.”
She said her business has been in operation since 2014 but introduced the “swimming pigs” in 2017 as part of their expanded tour business.
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 lives freely on this beach and they are all wild and blah blah blah.”
Recalling the visit 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.
Mrs Darville defended her company when she was contacted by The Tribune on Monday and did so again yesterday.
“We pride our pigs, and the pigs are well-trained as far as I am concerned. Whatever the lady said that was subjective. You got people who are animal activists, and that’s their opinion. But anybody who comes here they can see that the pigs are not being abused.
“We don’t treat animals with cruelty; we don’t believe in that. The animals are fed, they are watered, and all I am saying is that before people write up stories they should investigate and do some research. Pigs love water and they are naturally good swimmers.”
When asked about the enclosure on “the rocks,” Mrs Darville explained that it is one of two holding areas for the pigs, but that they are not housed or kept there overnight.
“We had to build two areas for the pigs. That area (out there on the rock) is a holding area where we do the tours at the bank out there. We take the pigs out there in the morning,” she said.
She noted that the floor of the holding area is concrete slab.
According to tour guide Philip Brooks, the pigs are taken to the the rocky cay and put in the holding area around 8.30am for their first tour which starts at 11am.
When asked the depth of the water between the holding area on the cay and the sand bank where the tour and feeding takes place, he said it is about four feet high.
After the tour, he said the pigs are taken onshore to a second holding area about 8x6 on the beach where they stay until the second tour at 1pm. There, the pigs are given drinking water and food, and are allowed to roam and move about freely in a playground area, he said.
After that the last tour at 1pm, the pigs are herded back onshore where they are housed and kept overnight, this newspaper was told. He said if the weather is bad, the tours are cancelled and the pigs are only allowed to swim in water where their feet can touch the ocean floor.
Mrs Darville explained that the pigs are taken to the holding area on the cay because when they brought the pigs out for tours initially, guests would rush towards them and they would run away.
“With that kind of attention, the pigs would run back because it is too much attention. So we decided to take them out to the cay and we use that to bring them out to the tour so that would take all the confusion away.
“. . .We take them to the cay, and when the tour is finished we take them again out there to rest in the pen; they have water and food already there so they can get refreshed and relaxed until the second tour,” she said.
Mrs Darville said that the pigs are properly fed with feed imported from the US. She also stated that their diet consists of grains and apples.
“We don’t allow people to bring their own food to feed the pigs. We give them the prescribed diet which is apples, and so they are not fed slop. And if you are doing tours with tourists, you don’t want the pigs all up in the mud,” she said.
She also noted that a veterinarian from New Providence comes to check the pigs once a month, and a government appointed vet visits the operation to inspect the pigs to make sure they are within the regulations as it relates to proper care of the animals.
“If it is something that we are doing that is not right, he would quickly let us know,” Mrs Darville said.
Some 200 guests went on the tour yesterday. One visitor described the experience as “really cool”.
Mrs Darville said that she and her husband invested some $500,000 in the business. Amid calls from some activists for the business to be shut down, Mrs Darville explained that the closure of the business would not only affect them, but also the economy of Grand Bahama.
“I have 12 full time staff, and 25 contractors, and over 20-30 cab drivers and tour operators that benefit from this operation, and so it would have a trickle down effect.
“I am not going to worry about it. I think it is a good thing we are doing and I am sure a lot of people here would agree. I know we have some animal lovers and activists out there, but it’s subjective,” she said.
“You got people who are animal activist and that’s their opinion. But anybody who comes here they can see that the pigs are not being abused,” she said.
However, when contacted on Monday, Grand Bahama Humane Society executive director Tip Burrows said her organisation has received several “concerning” reports related to the operation in recent months.
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”.