Pop Goes The News — A moribund Ontario zoo used the name and image of pop superstar Justin Bieber on Wednesday to sell tickets to a fundraiser.
On its Facebook page, the Bowmanville Zoo — which announced earlier this year that it would shut down at the end of the season — advertised $295 tickets to “BFF Bieber Family Fun Day” on Aug. 28.
The event description included a “meet and greet” with Bieber.
The zoo said Bieber’s family would be at the fundraiser to help raise money to “keep the animals fed, happy and healthy while we search for new homes for all of them.”
That evidently came as news to the singer’s father, Jeremy Bieber, who tweeted that his family is not involved in the Bowmanville Zoo event.
Shortly after the tweet, the zoo deleted its post about the event and said on Facebook that it had “invited” the Bieber family.
“None of the celebrities invited have any association with the zoo nor are they hosting this event … We have now been informed by the Bieber family that they are no longer attending this event.”
The Bowmanville Zoo blamed the family’s decision not to attend on “attacks” from animal rights group PETA and “some media outlets.”
It added: “We hope to see many of the celebrities we’ve invited, including the Bieber family, though there are no guarantees at this time.”
The Facebook post includes a photo of Justin Bieber bottle-feeding one of the zoo’s lion cubs in Toronto earlier this year.
The zoo said tickets sold on Wednesday have been refunded.
The 22-year-old pop star has not publicly commented on the zoo’s attempt to tie him to the event.
Bowmanville Zoo, located about 80 km east of Toronto and home to about 300 animals, has come under fire several times for its treatment of animals.
Last December, video surfaced showing owner Michael Hackenberger whipping a Siberian tiger named Uno.
MORE: Bowmanville Zoo owner caught whipping tiger
Hackenberger denied striking the animal, criticized PETA, and attempted to justify training wild animals to perform tricks.
In April, he was charged by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals with four counts of causing an animal distress and one of failing to comply with the prescribed standards of care for an animal.
The allegations have not yet been proven in court. Hackenberger, who is married to veterinarian Wendy Korver, reportedly stepped down as zoo director.
In January, PETA posted additional video in which Hackenberger talks about hitting animals.
“At the end of the day, it’s only through disincentives that you can absolutely force an animal to do something,” he explains in the video.
Referring to wolves, he says: “You smack ‘em and they generally fold like a house of cards. And that’s the beauty.”
He demonstrates how to use a “meat stick” on the animals because they are “afraid of it.”
Hackenberger says striking animals with the stick is “very effective” and adds “this is what we use on everything.”
The Bowmanville Zoo fundraising event takes place exactly one year after Hackenberger cursed at a baboon on live television.
While forcing the animal to ride on the back of a miniature horse during a segment for Breakfast Television, Hackenberger was heard calling the baboon a “cocksucker.” (Hackenberger later blamed the outburst on “exasperation.”)
BT host Kevin Frankish said the show “failed animals today.”
The incident prompted tweets of outrage and a petition calling for the closure of the zoo.
“This illustrates the poor quality of care and the atmosphere of abuse that surround the zoo,” read an online petition, “and makes one truly wonder what happens behind closed doors when this type of behaviour happens on live television.”
According to its website, the Bowmanville Zoo maintains “the largest stable of trained animals in North America” and is a leading supplier of animal talent to the television, movie and entertainment industry.”
The zoo’s tiger Jonas was used in 2012’s Life of Pi, which was partly filmed in Montreal.