Secret footage exposes conditions at Ontario roadside zoos



My curiosity in roadside zoos began with an electronic mail from a former colleague final April. It alerted me to information about an actual property itemizing not like any I’d ever seen. A zoo on the market (!) in Southwestern Ontario; a turn-key operation that included 450 mammals, birds and reptiles… and a snack bar.

I discovered the realtor’s pitch for Greenview Aviaries Park and Zoo on YouTube. “There’s everything here from ducks and swans to literally lions, tigers and bears,” he proposed.

And all for the tidy sum of $4.5 million, a cut price compared to Toronto property costs. But the itemizing received me pondering – may simply anybody purchase or function a zoo in Ontario?

Shockingly, in lots of components of the province, the reply is sure.

Greenview Aviaries — like at least a dozen different amenities in Ontario — is what’s generally known as a roadside zoo. These operations, starting from ramshackle animal collections to bigger, established websites, are sometimes unaccredited by any watchdog affiliation. And in Ontario, all zoos are unlicensed.

Camille Labchuk, the Executive Director of Animal Justice, describes it this fashion: “Ontario is the Wild West. There’s almost no oversight over zoos. There’s no regulations and no licence required to set up a zoo. So I can’t build a patio in my backyard without a permit, but I could open up a zoo and fill it with wild, dangerous, exotic animals.”

“We’ve got to remember that for us, it’s just a few minutes of walking through and being momentarily entertained. But for animals, it’s a lifetime of psychological and physical hardship,” she mentioned.

Camille Labchuk, govt director of Animal Justice, says: “Ontario is the Wild West. There’s almost no oversight over zoos.” (CTV W5)

W5 teamed up with two organizations — Animal Justice and World Animal Protection — to expose the sometimes sub-standard and dangerous conditions at many of these facilities.

Over the summer, both organizations sent investigators, posing as tourists, to zoos across the province. They each collected hundreds of photos and video clips documenting animal welfare and public safety concerns at the facilities.

This past fall, World Animal Justice released a public-facing report and submitted a complaint about 11 facilities to the Provincial Animal Welfare Inspectorate, listing potential violations of Ontario’s Standards of Care Regulations.

Among their concerns – undersized enclosures that prevent animals from engaging in natural movements and behavior, housing of social animals in solitary conditions, and poor construction of enclosures that could lead to animal escapes.

Michèle Hamers, Wildlife Campaign Manager at World Animal Protection, visited the locations.

“Most of these zoos, they keep the animals in very barren conditions, very hard flooring, no enrichment, very small cages,” she advised W5.

“One of the scariest moments for me was seeing an enclosure with three tigers and the fence of the enclosure, significantly too low for these tigers to be kept behind.”

Ontario has a historical past of escapes from roadside zoos. These embrace a kangaroo escape from the Papanack Park Zoo in Wendover, Ont. in 2021. It wandered onto a close-by street and later died. In 2016, a lion escaped from that very same zoo and needed to be shot by zookeepers.

Mark Drysdale, who operated three Ontario zoos, is aware of in regards to the challenges of caring for unique animals.

“Things can always go wrong. Of course they do,” he mentioned.

Mark Drysdale, who operated three Ontario zoos, is aware of in regards to the challenges of caring for unique animals. “Things can always go wrong. Of course they do,” he mentioned. (CTV W5)

Drysdale’s first operation in Wainfleet, Ont. was closed to the general public by Niagara Region Public Health authorities over security issues arising from 17 documented biting and scratching incidents.

Ontario’s Provincial Animal Welfare Services do examine amenities, examine complaints and attempt to implement compliance with provincial animal welfare legal guidelines.

But as a result of Ontario’s zoo operators aren’t required to be licensed, it’s largely as much as particular person municipalities to resolve whether or not they wish to prohibit or permit unique animal possession.

After he encountered neighborhood opposition to his zoo in Wainfleet, Drysdale moved his animals to Grand Bend after which Maynooth, Ont. Each of those city’s municipalities ended up passing unique animals bylaws to assist drive the closure of his amenities.

“We had these incidents that made me the enemy. People jumped on to it. And all of a sudden, you know, you’re the bad guy,” Drysdale advised W5.

What separates most roadside zoos from their better-known cousins just like the Toronto Zoo is accreditation — adherence to trade requirements set by Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, also referred to as CAZA.

Gabriela Mastromonaco is the Senior Director of Wildlife Science at the Toronto Zoo.

“It would be ideal if we could lift all of these unaccredited facilities to becoming accredited facilities. That is going to take time, energy and resources that I know are not there right now,” she mentioned.

Gabriela Mastromonaco, senior director of wildlife science at the Toronto Zoo, says it could be ultimate all of those unaccredited amenities may turn into accredited, nevertheless it’s “going to take time, vitality and assets that I do know are usually not there proper now.” (CTV W5)

But some roadside zoo house owners — like Alicia Patten at Greenview Aviaries, the power that was listed on the market earlier this 12 months — do wish to meet accreditation requirements. That zoo was one of many 11 named in World Animal Protection’s current grievance to the Ontario authorities.

“A lot of things do need to be changed. It needs to be more structured for everybody’s safety,” Patten advised W5, referring to conditions at her not too long ago bought zoo.

“We’re working with CAZA and are ready to try to get accredited by them, a huge long process. But I am committed to doing that.”

The Toronto Zoo’s Gabriela Mastromonaco understands that accreditation might not be instantly achievable for all zoos.

“We have to continue to try to protect those animals with legislation, with other kinds of support and with people, communities and professionals caring,” she mentioned.

And whereas there isn’t any horizon for zoo licensing in Ontario, a federal Bill, S-241, often called the Jane Goodall Act, is making its means by way of the federal Senate. If S-241 turns into regulation, it could restrict house owners from buying and breeding animals in unaccredited amenities.

A 12 months after he give up the zoo enterprise, even Mark Drysdale agrees that provincial or federal laws would truly be useful to house owners of Ontario’s unaccredited zoos.

“Most of the people that I know that have these animals that are sensible people, they all say, if we just knew the rules, we could work around the rules.”

Watch “Animal House” on CTV W5, Saturday at 7 p.m.


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