Ontario has the weakest zoo regulations and animal protection laws in Canada.
There are more than 45 zoos in Ontario – more than any other province – and approximately 60% of all Canadian zoos are in Ontario.
The majority of zoos in Ontario are “roadside zoos”—small, substandard facilities that typically house animals in poor, barren conditions, and lack trained professional animal care staff and the financial resources necessary to ensure proper animal care and housing.
Ontario does not regulate the keeping of exotic wildlife in captivity. One doesn’t even need a licence to keep a lion or tiger in their backyard. 2/3 of the animals kept in Ontario zoos are exotic species.
A licence is only required to keep native wildlife in captivity and the conditions are minimal, vague and poorly enforced.
To open a zoo, no training or education is necessary and no business plan or base level of funding required.
There are no public health and safety regulations or inspections to protect zoo staff, volunteers, visitors and neighbours.
It is not a provincial offence to abuse a zoo animal.
Ontario is expected to introduce legislation shortly, aimed at overhauling the sadly outdated 90-year-old law that regulates these misery camps. The updated legislation is intended to set standards of care for small zoos and give the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals the right to inspect the operations. The bill, if passed, will also likely ensure there are tougher consequences for people who abuse animals by making it a provincial offence to hurt an animal.
Newfoundland and Labrador spells out how specific species should be housed and treated, and Alberta recently brought in tougher zoo regulations. In other provinces, the SPCA can go into zoos and inspect the animals.
While some are worried about how the bill might impact rural animal-owners, the plan is being hailed by animal welfare groups who say the overhaul is long overdue.
“There are some pretty sad cases out there,” said Bill Peters, national director of the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, who made recommendations to the Liberals about the new legislation. “Their standards are pretty deplorable. Some of the animals are being kept in conditions that you simply don’t want to see continue.”
Ontario’s small zoos are considered to be among the worst in the world. Investigators say they have found animals living in filthy conditions, without clean drinking water or adequate stimulation. Animals that are social and used to living in groups are kept in isolation while other more dangerous animals – like tigers and lions – are kept in flimsy cages that allow children to stick their hands right in.
In June, 2006, WSPA surveyed three of Ontario’s roadside zoos. The worst, it says, was Lickety Split Zoo in London, where footage was captured of a kangaroo unable to stand on its hind legs, a horse with cracked hoofs and several unlocked animal cages.
Some Ontario zoos won’t have much difficulty upgrading to meet new standards, Peters said. The ones who can’t should be shut down, he added. They don’t have the facilities or the educated staff to house exotic animals humanely, Peters said. “They’re simply not taking care, in any adequate sense, of the animals that they’re responsible for.”
Kristin Williams, with the Ontario SPCA, said the Liberals have given the organization cash for a voluntary inspection program but there is nothing the SPCA can do if a zoo refuses to allow an inspection. “Unfortunately, the current Ontario SPCA Act is woefully inadequate,” said Williams, who made recommendations to the Liberals on the new legislation. “It’s also very antiquated. The way people feel about their companion animals has evolved. The province wants to address those concerns and is “interested in giving the Ontario SPCA greater powers to resolve the issues that are suspected with animals in captivity.”
The new legislation comes after backbencher Liberal David Zimmer introduced a private members’ bill to regulate roadside zoos, a bill which died on the order paper when his government prorogued the legislature last year.
Melissa Tkachyk, campaigns officer with the World Society for the Protection of Animals, said she’s thrilled the province has finally decided to revamp the 1919 law. It’s time the province took a more proactive approach to the protection of animals, she said. “Of course, we always want to see things happen quicker but there has been a huge break and they haven’t got back to the legislature yet so we’ve got to be patient.”
Opposition Leader Bob Runciman is also eagerly awaiting the bill. The Conservative veteran – who has spearheaded bills to increase the penalties for people who abuse cats and dogs – said the devil will be in the small print of the legislation. The Liberals could run into trouble if they make the law too broad and subjective, allowing it to be applied to rural residents and their farm animals.
Well, that’s assuming McGuinty and his crew pass the bill this time. Last year, McGuinty decided to end the legislative session 3-1/2 weeks ahead of schedule. Runciman’s bill took a back seat to the McGuinty crew’s overwhelming desire to get the hell out of Dodge and go blow some of that swag snagged the previous Christmas when they awarded themselves salary, RRSP and severance hikes totalling 31 per cent.
According to the WSPA report on zoo failures (2006), passing zoos in Ontario are the Toronto Zoo, Jungle Cat World, Muskoka Wildlife Centre and Zooz Nature Park in Stevensville, Ontario.
The 12 failing zoos are the Bear Creek Exotic Wildlife Sanctuary, Bergerons Exotic Animal Sanctuary, Bowmanville Zoo, Colasanti’s Tropical Gardens, Elmvale Jungle Zoo, Greenview Aviaries Park and Zoo, Killman Zoo, Lickety-Split Ranch and Zoo, Northwood Buffalo and Exotic Animal Ranch, Papanack Park Zoo, Pineridge Zoo and Twin Valley Zoo.
WSPA 2006 report
Zoocheck documents abysmal conditions at Killman Zoo, Twin Valley Zoo, and Lickety-Split Ranch and Zoo:
Ontario Zoocheck Report #1 (2006)
An older Zoocheck report from 1995 documents Ontario zoo investigations, and includes extensive information on recommended standards.
Report on Ontario Zoos, 1995