A tale of a unique bond between a man and a walrus, a decade-long fight, and an unexpected relocation is capturing hearts across the globe. Phil Demers, a former animal trainer, has successfully overseen the journey of Smooshi, a beloved walrus, from Canada’s controversial Marineland to a new life in Abu Dhabi, over 11,000 km away.
Demers first met Smooshi in 2004, when she was brought to Marineland as an 18-month-old calf from Russia. The connection was immediate and strong, with Smooshi imprinting on Demers during a medical procedure. Smooshi followed him around the park, and their bond became inseparable, creating a profound, heartwarming relationship.
However, Demers was increasingly troubled by what he perceived as the mistreatment of animals at Marineland, which faced allegations and investigations concerning animal distress due to poor water quality. His concerns led to his departure from the park in 2012 and his mission to rescue Smooshi.
Legal battles ensued between Demers and Marineland, with allegations and counter-allegations. After ten years and a substantial financial investment, Demers finally saw his dream come true when Marineland agreed to re-house Smooshi and her calf Kayuk, citing the best interests of the walruses.
Despite an emotional, if brief, reunion before her departure, Demers remains banned from Marineland. Smooshi and Kayuk have since been moved to Sea World Abu Dhabi, set to open its doors in late May 2023. Though an animal rights campaigner himself, Demers is relieved that the walruses are finally out of Marineland, even though Smooshi is thousands of kilometers away.
While the idea of walruses in the scorching heat of Abu Dhabi might raise concerns, experts have assured that the new SeaWorld facility will be a better home for Smooshi and her calf. With climate-controlled environments and substantial resources for enrichment and care, they believe the duo will be better off in their new home.
Phil Demers, still emotionally attached to Smooshi, looks forward to the day he can visit her in her new home. The shared joy, worry, and hope surrounding Smooshi’s journey reflect a growing global concern for the welfare of animals and the need for continuous review and improvement in the way we handle and care for captive creatures.
This article by Josie Fu was first published by OneGreenPlanet on 21 May 2023.
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