Thank you so much for your ongoing support of Zoocheck’s critical wildlife protection work. I’m extremely grateful that you allow us to work on your behalf to help animals across Canada and elsewhere.
Zoos and Zoo-type Exhibits
As you know, Zoocheck has spent decades working to reduce the number of roadside zoos and animal attractions in Canada and we’ve been very successful at it. When we first began there were hundreds of unregulated zoos and zoo-type exhibits across the country but, today, there are just a small number east or west of Ontario, and only about 10 or so in Ontario, a tiny fraction of what there used to be. We’ve pushed the trend downward for years and, while doing that, we’ve also challenged many of the outdated and inappropriate practices in the more professional zoos as well.
We’re pleased to report that our campaign to stop a new roadside zoo with more than a dozen big cats in Maynooth, Ontario was successful. The entire effort took more than 10 months and involved hundreds of hours of work pushing elected officials, bureaucrats and others to act. The effort was worth it and resulted in the dismantling of the zoo. And just a short while ago, the Toronto Star newspaper featured a front page investigative story on the issue and referred to the owner as Canada’s Tiger King. That campaign also led to the adoption of 5 new exotic animal bylaws in the region.
In the fall of 2021, a new issue that had the potential to reverse the downward trend in zoo numbers Ontario surfaced. We learned that the commercial zoo business called Reptilia was working to open multiple new locations in Ontario and possibly elsewhere. Reptilia already has two existing zoo locations in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Unlike most other zoos in Canada, they conduct a broad range of ancillary commercial activities, both on and offsite, including selling reptile pet products and bringing animals out to children’s parties and other events.
We soon learned that Reptilia wanted to set up a zoo in downtown Toronto and that they were requesting an exemption to the prohibited animals’ provisions of Toronto’s animal control bylaw so they could keep crocodilians, giant snakes and lizards and numerous venomous reptiles in the City. We immediately began working to prevent this from happening and we were successful.
We’re pleased to report that in November, City of Toronto staff report released their report and recommended that NO exemption be given to Reptilia. The report corroborated many of our concerns and cited numerous human health and safety, environmental, nuisance, animal welfare and other issues. Then on December 1st, the Economic and Community Development Committee considered the staff report and voted unanimously to support the staff recommendation. On December 15th Toronto City Council then voted 26 – 0 not to provide an exemption for Reptilia.
The very same day that Toronto said NO, we learned that Reptilia was seeking the exact same kind of exemption in St. Catharines, so they could set up a zoo in a shopping center right next to the QEW highway on the way to Niagara Falls, and that St. Catharines City Council would be deciding on the exemption, possibly in January. We immediately began organizing in the City and have generated strong support from residents, other NGOs and experts. Reptilia’s exemption request, that would allow them to establish a zoo in St. Catharines, will come before Council in the coming weeks. We are also working on similar issues in London and other cities.
Zoocheck was also engaged in several other zoo issues in 2021, including lobbying against a bylaw exemption for a private zoo just east of Toronto. For years, the zoo has been illegally keeping animals that are prohibited in the municipality and is now seeking an exemption from the local bylaw to make itself legal. Zoocheck is opposing the exemption.
Zoocheck also provided materials and commentary to the Ontario government animal welfare consultation process examining the keeping of certain wild animals in the province. While we hope the process results in some meaningful change, at this point that seems unlikely.
Zoocheck’s ongoing effort to protect exotic pets has continued in Ontario, the Maritimes and other areas of Canada. We have been pushing for greater consideration for birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates by policy-makers and enforcement officials and we’ve been making headway, especially in the promotion of Positive List regulation of exotic animals. We’re still at the front end of changing the exotic pet paradigm for the vast range of smaller exotic species exploited in Canada, but we’re very optimistic that we’ll continue to make meaningful pro-animal gains.
Zoocheck is also working, in collaboration with our partners at World Animal Protection, to challenge the abuse of animals in reptile shows and expos. These events may feature thousands of reptiles in Tupperware containers, cake trays, plexiglass rack displays and other kinds of entirely inappropriate housing and conditions. These kinds of events, where animals are treated as commodities or collectables, should not be allowed. We are the first ones to ever challenge them and are at the beginning of this effort, but we’re confident we’ll make headway in dealing with them.
Wildlife in the Wild
On the wildlife front, we’ve been working on a rebranding effort for the persecuted double-crested cormorant, including developing a new GreatLakesCormorants.com website and a quirky new documentary short called Shoreline Socialites about the nonsensical Ontario cormorant hunting season. These kinds of materials are part of the foundation on which our future cormorant advocacy activities will be based.
Zoocheck’s campaign to rebrand Alberta’s wild horses has also continued through additional promotion of our documentary short film Wild Hearts and our ongoing monitoring of government wild horse discussions and activities. With just a few exceptions, the horses have been safe for a number of years, but we’re now hearing that the anti-wild horse forces are looking to change that. We are working behind the scenes to prevent renewed persecution of Alberta’s wild horses.
There’s a lot more going on as well. Every week we receive calls from individuals, organizations, official agencies and media, looking for information, technical advice, campaign strategy development assistance or other kinds of help. Responding and providing meaningful support to others is something we’ve done for over 35 years. By investing just a small amount of time, energy or resources into external activities and campaigns we’ve helped facilitate improved conditions for animals, important investigations, zoo closures, animal rescues, changes to laws and more, in Canada, the United States and countries around the world.
One of the activities we regularly engage in are animal advocacy training sessions and the feedback on them has been excellent. As we’ve mentioned before, we are also developing plans for more formal training through development of a more comprehensive Advocacy Training Program. The pandemic has delayed our plans but we expect to proceed with the ATP in 2022. We believe it will be one of the most important activities we’ve ever conducted.
The various campaigns and activities listed above are not entirely comprehensive, but they do provide a glimpse into what we’ve been up to. If you have any questions about any of our work, please let us know. We’re extremely grateful that you make it possible for us to deliver these important animal protection campaigns on your behalf. It is making a demonstrable difference for animals.