Oct. 3, 2005. 06:10 PM
Ontario zoos rapped on animal care, public safety
FROM CANADIAN PRESSExotic and other wild animals in Ontario are often condemned to living in cramped, dirty and barren enclosures that don't properly protect the public, a report on the province's zoos concludes.
The report, to be released Tuesday by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, finds Ontario lags far behind the rest of the country when it comes to regulating zoos.
"Ontario stands out as the worst jurisdiction in Canada when it comes to ensuring the proper care of captive wildlife," says the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press.
"The province makes it far too easy for residents to collect wild animals in small cages and advertise themselves as a zoo."
In all, 80 exhibits at 16 Ontario zoos were audited this spring, with 66 exhibits being classified as inadequate. Many included animals being held in dismal condition, many of them showing signs of stress, such as rocking or pulling out their own hair.
At one exhibit, a young bear was kept in a small, dirty cage without any shade. At another, a kangaroo was housed on a hard floor without enough room to jump properly.
The audit also uncovered six tiger exhibits that were either too small to allow natural movement or housed the large cats on concrete or hard-packed earth.
Even the Toronto Zoo, which earned top marks in almost every category, was faulted for how its grizzly bears were being kept.
The audits were done by expert Ken Gold, who has spent 25 years working at zoos in places such as San Francisco, The Netherlands and Singapore.
"I was surprised," Gold said. "Several of these zoos . . . are on a par with some of the worst zoos I have seen in many third world countries."
The report also says lax rules and enforcement by the Ministry of Natural Resources are putting both the public and zoo staff at risk. In almost half the exhibits looked at, cages or other separation barriers were deemed insufficient to protect visitors or staff.
"Having a lion, tiger or bear is tantamount to keeping a loaded gun on your premises," the report said.
All Canadian provinces, with the exception of Ontario and British Columbia, require some sort of licence to keep wildlife, regardless of whether the species is native or exotic.
With more than 40 facilities, Ontario has more roadside zoos and wild animal displays than elswhere in Canada but requires no permit for most species, such as lions, tigers, monkeys, groundhogs or eastern cougars.
Pat Tohill, the society's campaigns manager, called it ``irresponsible" that "anyone at all" can keep such animals.
The report notes that captive exotic wildlife has killed or injured several people in Ontario over the past decade.
Earlier this year, a judge awarded a couple $2.5 million after a lion attacked them at African Lion Safari near Hamilton.
And just last week, a tiger had to be tranquillized after it escaped from the Papanack Zoo east of Ottawa and ended up snoozing on a highway.