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(November 2013)

Ontario Government Provides No Help For Captive Animals

On October 25, 2013, Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Affairs, made her long awaited announcement regarding the results of the Ontario government's consultation on how to improve protection of Ontario's wildlife in captivity, including the animals at Marineland. Sadly, the announcement was devoid of even a single measure that would help Ontario's wildlife in captivity.

The announcement said additional funding would be provided to the Ontario SPCA, but:

  • There will be no licensing system for zoos, aquariums and private menageries to weed out the bad and irresponsible operators at the start. Instead there will be a voluntary registration program and spot inspections for other facilities who do not register. This is not substantively different from the current situation. Any person or business will still be able to acquire animals and open a captive animal facility or keep exotic wild animals as pets.
  • There will be no comprehensive standards for the operation of zoos, aquariums and private menageries or for the housing, husbandry and care of wildlife in captivity in the forseeable future. There was a promise of standards, but no information as to what the standards would be or how they would be developed.
  • There will be no prohibition on the keeping of whales and dolphins. Instead, the Minister announced that experts would be consulted and a set of standards developed and publicized sometime in 2014. There was no information about who would develop the standards or what they would be based on (i.e., best practice, animal needs).
  • There will be no prohibition on the keeping of dangerous wild animals, such as big cats, bears or venomous snakes, as pets by private individuals.
  • There will be no new measures to create accountability and transparency. The current system whereby information about official actions is difficult, or impossible, to obtain will continue.
  • There will be no whistleblower protection to protect staff and volunteers in zoos and aquariums who report abuse and neglect. Instead, individuals will continue to be the target of SLAPP lawsuits aimed to keep them quiet.

Not a single key item discussed, and agreed upon, at the NGO consultation day was included in the announcement, so Ontario's wildlife in captivity still remains unregulated and essentially unprotected.

Ontario's Zoos and Marineland

A number of zoo site visits were conducted in 2012 showing widespread problems still ubiquitous in Ontario's zoos and animal menageries. In the fall, an explosive Toronto Star series about Marineland reignited the public debate about the state of Ontario's zoos and aquariums. Following the first article a range of activities took place, including a petition with 82,000 signatories being presented to former Premier Dalton McGuinty. That led to Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services announcing that the Ontario government would look at this situation and, if changes needed to be made, they would be made. Her Ministry is currently engaged in a consultation process on the zoo and aquarium issue.

Ontario's Zoos

In 2011 and 2012, numerous complaints about zoos in the province were registered with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ontario SPCA. Follow up investigations of several of the zoos are scheduled to take place in 2012, as well as new investigations of additional facilities.

Also in 2011/12 Zoocheck cooperated with the City of London on the phase out of the animal portion of their Storybook Gardens children's amusement park. All of the animals Zoocheck relocated were successfully transported to their new homes. Unfortunately, the four seals transported by the St. Louis Zoo did not fare so well, with three fatalities en route (see Seal Deaths and the End of the Storybook Zoo Era).

Report Highlights Potential Dangers in Ontario's Zoos

On February 17, 2011, Zoocheck and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) released a report highlighting potential safety risks a ssociated with the keeping wild animals in captivity in Ontario. Wild Neighbours: The Safety and Security of Ontario’s Wildlife in Captivity Facilities is based on a 2010 review of six Ontario zoos. The review found potentially dangerous animals kept behind low barriers in cages and enclosures that lacked many of the standard safety features found in professional zoo exhibits.

Last year, private menagerie owner Norman Buwalda was fatally mauled by his pet tiger in Southwold Township. For several years, Southwold residents asked their town council to pass a bylaw to ban exotic pets. When a tiger on the same property attacked a boy in 2004, council finally acceded but Buwalda fought the new bylaw and won. WSPA and Zoocheck say this is a good example of why provincial regulations are needed. In the aftermath of the Buwalda tragedy, Southwold’s council passed a resolution calling for the province to regulate captive wildlife.

Anyone in Ontario can keep a tiger, lion or venomous snake without a licence or any professional qualifications. While some municipalities have bylaws restricting exotic animal ownership, the Province of Ontario needs to step in to ensure a uniform safety standard across the province.

Wild Neighbours: The Safety and Security of Ontario’s Wildlife in Captivity Facilities.

New Private Member's Bill aims to control exotic animals in Ontario

On November 1, 2010, MPP Dave Levac (Brant) introduced Private Member’s Bill 125, The Exotic Wildlife in Captivity Act, in the Ontario Legislature. If passed, the Bill will give the Minister of Natural Resources the ability to regulate the ownership, breeding and acquisition of exotic wildlife by private citizens. Anyone wishing to own exotic wildlife will be required to apply for a licence, provide the animals with proper care and accommodation, keep the public safe from danger and surrender the animals to the Minister should they fail in any of these duties.

"This legislation is a long time coming," Mr. Levac said, "Some ‘independent zoo operators’ and individuals bring exotic animals into Ontario and treat them inhumanely. They receive little to no veterinary care, and are often exploited for profit. As well, these wild animals pose a safety threat, both to their owners, as we have seen from a rash of attacks in recent years, and to the general public if they escape from what are often limited and poorly constructed containment spaces."

"This Bill is not aimed at responsible pet owners who have a snake, for example," said Levac, "It is aimed at those who abuse and exploit their animals, and at custodians that own animals that pose a threat to public safety should they escape. The Bill gives the Ministry the power to make a list of animals that would be subject to these provisions, and I am sure the Ministry will engage in wide public consultations when determining which animals should be included."

Ontario is still the only province that lacks laws, regulations or policies aimed at controlling the keeping of exotic animals . This is a serious animal welfare and public safety problem. The Bill will restrict ownership of dangerous exotic wildlife to professional zoos and set limits on who can keep exotic wild animals in captivity and under what conditions.

The Bill passed first reading on November 1st, and Mr. Levac hopes to have it enshrined in law before the next provincial election.

Click here to read Bill 125.

Zoo Investigations Reveal Standards Being Ignored

During the summer and fall of 2010, Zoocheck Canada conducted site visits to approximately a dozen zoos across the province. While all zoos are supposed to comply with the animal welfare conditions of their Ministry of Natural Resources license and the standards contained in the revised Ontario SPCA Act, it appeared that few actually did. In fact, the Ontario government's own Springwater Provincial Park Wildlife Display was found to be in violation of the province's own standards. While complaints were forwarded to the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ontario SPCA during the review, a compilation report on the investigation, and another separate report on the safety of displays housing potentially dangerous animals, are scheduled for release in the spring of 2011.

Business as usual at Ontario's zoos

Despite the Ontario government's continued claims that the recent revisions to the Ontario SPCA Act offer the strongest animal protection laws in Canada, that's no consolation to wildlife in Ontario's roadside zoos who continue to suffer the same as they did before the changes were made.

This past summer Zoocheck Canada conducted a series of investigations aimed at determining whether or not Ontario's zoos comply with the new regulations and standards. The results of our review indicate that few, if any, changes have occurred and animals continue to languish in small, improverished cages and enclosures throughout the province. Many of those animals will end up in even more compromised conditions when Ontario's winter weather arrives.

The revisions to the Ontario SPCA Act offer vague, generally unenforceable regulations and standards that are easily ignored by anyone keeping wild animals in captivity. As well, unlike recent legislation in British Columbia, there is no licensing or permitting component that requires current or potential animal owners to have the necessary expertise, experience or financial wherewithal to properly house and care for wild animals. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can still buy a tiger or cobra and there's nothing anyone can do about it.

During the entire Bill 50 process, Zoocheck feared that the entire exercise would have little or no effect on roadside zoos and other captive wildlife facilities and that the Ontario government would, after the fact, erroneously inform concerned members of the public that all has been taken care of. That is exactly what happened. While there are admittedly some very good aspects to the Ontario SPCA Act revisions, the oft repeated claim that the zoo situation in Ontario would be dealt with was a sham.

Zoocheck is committed to continuing its push for a licensing system for all captive wildlife facilities in the province and will do whatever possible to exert pressure on individual zoos to clean up or close down.

Bill 50 - No Answer to Zoo Problem

Shortly after Ontario MPP David Zimmer’s Private Member’s Bill 154, The Regulation of Zoos Act died on the Order Paper, the Ontario government announced that a new bill would be introduced that would address, among other things, the roadside zoo problem. The new bill, entitled Bill 50, An Act to amend the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was introduced in the spring of 2008 and was passed on November 18, 2008.

While Bill 50 contains a number of very significant, long overdue and beneficial changes to the Ontario SPCA Act that will facilitate a more proactive enforcement program in the province, there is nothing specifically focused on the roadside zoo issue. One section of the bill does allow regulations to be created for certain practices, including roadside zoos, but, so far, there does not appear to be any intent to follow through with them.

Regardless, even if regulations for zoos are developed, in all likelihood they will be general standards of housing and care. There will still be no up-front regulation of the industry that will stop inexperienced or ill-equipped persons from acquiring wild animals for personal or display purposes and there will be no rules regarding the safety of staff, visitors, bystanders and neighbours.

Zoocheck Canada is continuing to push for a comprehensive regulatory scheme that will properly control the proliferation of wild animals in Ontario, something sadly missing from Bill 50.

Zoo Closures

In May 2007, Lickety Split Ranch (The Zoo) in London closed its doors temporarily and has not yet reopened. The closure occurred because of the massive negative media attention generated after Australian press learned about the treatment of Tyson the kangaroo. Shortly thereafter Tyson disappeared and his whereabouts are unknown. A local citizen’s group comprised of people concerned about Tyson and the other animals at Lickety Split has been trying to locate him and to convince the City of London council to close the zoo down for good.

In 2007, Lickety Split was also charged by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources for holding native wildlife in captivity without a license.

Also in 2007, a proposal for a new zoo, that would have displayed a wide variety of exotic species, including big cats and primates, was brought forward in the Niagara Region. For several months Zoocheck worked to prevent its opening and the project is on hold for now.

During the past 24 months, the Pineridge Zoo near Grand Bend and the Kerwood Wolf Education Centre near London both closed their doors for good. In northern Ontario, the Cochrane Wildlife Park and the Temiskaming Wildlife Center also closed down.

Past Events

(2010)Wild Neighbours: Safety and Security in Ontario's Wildlife in Captivity Facilities A Zoocheck review of safety and security in Ontario zoos.

(2010) A Review of Zoos in Ontario, Has Anything Changed? A Zoocheck review of zoos in Ontario.

(2010) Bill 125, The Exotic Wildlife in Captivity Act - A Private Members Bill introduced by MPP David Levac. Support by Zoocheck and WSPA. Died on the Order Paper.

(2008) Bill 50, An Act to amend the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act - A government bill introduced to address deficiencies in Ontario's animal welfare legislation.

(2008) Ontario Zoo Review Series A Zoocheck review of zoos in Ontario.

(2006) Bill 154, The Regulation of Zoos Act - A Private Members Bill introduced by MPP David Zimmer and supported by Zoocheck, WSPA and OSPCA. Died on the Order Paper in 2007.

(2006) Zoocheck Canada conducts review of zoos in Ontario, including Lickety Split Ranch and Zoo, Twin Valley Zoo, Killmans Zoo, Zooz Nature Park, Marineland, Bergerons Exotic Animal Sanctuary and Guha’s Tiger and Lion Farm.

(2005) Failing The Grade: A Report on Conditions in Ontario’s Zoos – Release of WSPA Canada review of 16 Ontario zoos by Dr. Ken Gold.

(2001) The State of the Ark: Investigating Ontario’s Zoos – Release of WSPA Canada review of 16 zoos by Karen Cowan and Jennifer Long.

(2001) Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources finalizes draft standards for zoos after extensive consultation period. The standards were never implemented.

(1999) The Bear Essentials, A Survey of Captive American Black Bears in Ontario – Release of Zoocheck Canada review of black bear exhibits by Marilyn Cole

(1998) While Rome Burns…A Report Into Conditions In The Zoos Of Ontario – Release of Zoocheck Canada/WSPA review of 11 Ontario zoos by veterinarian/animal behaviourist Samantha Lindley.

(1997) Bill 159, Exotic Animal Controls Act – A Private Members Bill introduced by MPP John Parker and supported by Zoocheck. Died on the Order Paper.

(1995) Zoos In Ontario, An Investigative Report - Release of the Zoocheck Canada/WSPA review of 18 Ontario zoos by Dr. John Gripper.

(1990-1994) Animal Welfare Review Committee – An interministry committee mandated to examine a variety of animal welfare issues, including the keeping of wildlife in zoos and private menageries. The AWRC came out with comprehensive recommendations in 1994. None were implemented.

(1988) Bill 129, An Act to Regulate the Use of Animals Kept for Exhibition or Entertainment – A Private Members Bill introduced by MPP Ed Phillip, supported by Zoocheck. Passed 2nd reading and then died on the Order Paper.

(1988) Zoos In Ontario: An Informal Look – Release of the first ever review of Ontario's roadside zoos and the problems they present by Rob Laidlaw.