Ontario Roadside Zoos

At the Killman Zoo in Caledonia, Ontario, this African hamadryas baboon is kept in a small dirty cage

As part of an effort to clean-up or close down the worst of Ontario's roadside zoos, WSPA has been campaigning for years to enact licensing for exotic wildlife ownership. Working with Zoocheck we have stepped up these efforts with the release of Wild Neighbours: The Safety and Security of Ontario's Wildlife in Captivity Facilities a hard hitting report detailing many public and animal safety risks present in Ontario zoos.

The Ontario government has passed new standards for zoos under the Ontario SPCA Act but, Ontario remains the only province yet to licence the keeping of exotic wildlife. This means that anyone regardless of experience, expertise or financing can start a zoo or keep a tiger, lion or venomous snake as a pet.

Because of these lax regulations Ontario is home to more zoos than any other province, the majority of these are substandard facilities commonly referred to as "roadside zoos". Roadside zoos typically house animals in poor, barren conditions, offering little more than a food and water dish and a basic shelter. Most roadside zoos lack trained professional animal care staff and the finances necessary to provide adequate care and shelter. Deprived of opportunities to behave naturally, the animals often show signs of psychological disturbance, boredom and frustration.

The zoos reviewed in Wild Neighbours represent only six of the nearly 50 captive wildlife facilities in Ontario. Additionally, there are an estimated 500 exotic cats (e.g. lions, tigers, jaguars and servals) kept in private hands in Ontario.

It is time to fix our lax provincial standards and regulate the exotic animal industry in Ontario.

View the full Wild Neighbours report
View an Executive Summary

Background on the OSPCA Act and Zoo Standards

Two tigers are crammed into a small cage with only a dirty water bowl to drink from.

Two tigers are crammed into a small cage with only a dirty water bowl to drink from.

© WSPA/Melissa Matlow

On March 1, 2009 the first comprehensive changes to the Ontario OSPCA Act, since it was first enacted in 1919 were introduced.

Why the amendments are important:

  • It is now a provincial offence to cause or permit distress to any animal.

  • It raises the bar by establishing the strongest penalties in the country for those charged with animal cruelty, including the potential to prohibit the offender from owning animals ever again.

  • It gives the Ontario SPCA the authority to inspect zoos and other facilities that keep animals for exhibition, entertainment, boarding, hire or sale. Before March 1, the SPCA needed permission from the owners of a zoo to inspect the animals.

  • It establishes animal care standards that apply to all animals and makes failure to comply with these an offence.

  • It makes it an offence to train animals to fight other animals, or own fighting-related equipment, addressing a loophole in the Criminal Code which makes it difficult to convict people charged with this type of crime.

  • It allows the legislation offering the strongest protection for animals to prevail when there is a conflict between provincial and municipal legislation.

The government also established general standards of care for all animals and more specific standards for captive wildlife in the regulations accompanying the new law.

Monitoring effectiveness

WSPA encourages the Ontario government to regulate the keeping of exotic wildlife through a proactive comprehensive licensing system. Despite the significant improvements to Ontario’s animal protection law, residents of this province still don’t need a licence to keep lions, tigers or other exotic species in captivity and can easily acquire these animals without any proof of training or experience.

Anyone who wishes to keep wild animals in captivity should be licensed and forced to comply with professional animal welfare and public safety standards.

What You Can Do to Help

  • Do not visit roadside zoos or animal displays.

  • If you decide to visit a roadside zoo to see the conditions firsthand, take photographs/video and make notes.

  • If you see an animal in distress or not housed for in accordance with the prescribed standards please contact the Ontario SPCA imediately.

  • Please also let Zoocheck know of any suspected or known violations affecting the welfare of zoo animals or the public's safety at zoos.



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