London becomes the latest city to say “no” to a controversial reptile zoo
We know the many risks involved in the trade of wild animals, now residents are also speaking out and municipalities across Ontario are taking action.
By Michèle Hamers, Wildlife Campaign Manager
Advocating for the welfare of animals is sometimes a bit of a rollercoaster. There are moments you know you’re going to win, moments you know you’re going to lose, and moments where you are pleasantly surprised.
Late last year, Toronto City council voted unanimously to protect animal welfare and public health and safety by not allowing a controversial reptile zoo, Reptilia, in their city. A couple of months ago, the City of St. Catharines followed suit and unanimously voted to deny Reptilia from opening a zoo in a mall. On February 14th, the City of London voted for the third time in eight years against the opening of this reptile zoo. These are incredible wins for animals, and it gives me hope and confidence that science, reason, and compassion can prevail.
For years now, I have been working side by side with Canadian-based organization, Zoocheck, to change the paradigm for animals that are often excluded from animal welfare conversations.
While reptiles and amphibians are sentient, sensitive, complex animals who can suffer greatly, and can also experience pleasure and joy, they are often left unprotected and consequently heavily exploited.
Exploitation can take on many forms, but here in Canada it usually manifests itself in two ways:
Reptiles bred, transported, sold, and kept for pets
Reptiles used for entertainment purposes like mobile zoos and visitor-animal interactions
Reptiles and amphibians can’t vocalize their stress and they can’t show their fear through facial expressions, but research has shown that being handled, transported, and displayed can be incredibly stressful for them and detrimental to their health and welfare.
I have been to many zoos in my lifetime and typically reptiles are kept in the most deprived, barren, and unnatural conditions. These conditions are often based on normalized, unscientific folklore husbandry practices (husbandry practices that lack evidence, are pseudoscientific, convenience-based, and are handed down from one animal keeper to the next), with a focus on keeping an animal alive rather than ensuring that an animal can thrive and experience good mental and physical health.
An anaconda in a tank so small they are unable to stretch out fully. Anacondas are well adapted to aquatic life, but this snake’s enclosure prevents them from swimming or displaying any other natural behaviour. [Photo by Michèle, 2022 at Northern Exotics]
Because of the normalization of these awful conditions, it is very challenging to explain to people that what’s deemed to be normal is actually highly problematic. Sometimes a powerful image or video can do the trick. For example, the video below had profound impact on St. Catharines lawmakers.
Video provided by Zoocheck
In London, other elements were also considered like public health and safety.
While often downplayed or simply ignored by facilities that rely on people paying money for animal-visitor interactions, most reptiles are carriers of disease. This is why Public Health agencies in Ontario and elsewhere urge children under the age of 5, pregnant individuals, people over the age of 65, and anybody who is immunocompromised to avoid interacting with reptiles and to not bring reptiles to environments where people at risk reside or visit.
It is concerning to me how few people are aware of this fact and how this lack of knowledge is exploited but people who make money of these animals.
Together, we're making a difference in the fight against the exploitation and trade of wild animals
More people are speaking out against the exploitation and trade of wild animals and it’s making an impact. It helps to have City Councillors hear from residents and I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to our supporters who took the time to send emails to City Councillors in support of our cause.
Your actions played an instrumental role in the recent victories we achieved in St. Catharines, and London. By speaking out against the exploitation and trade of wild animals, we are making a real impact. When I attend City Council meetings to present the evidence and speak out for animal welfare, it brings me confidence to know that so many of you are with me.
Concerns raised as Reptilia plans to open zoo with exotic animals despite city ruling
Despite being denied an exemption to a city bylaw that bans exotic animals like crocodiles and alligators, local news reports that Reptilia plans to move forward with displaying both native and exotic animals in its London mall zoo.
The company claims that it is exempt from the bylaw due to its provincial license and being a private zoo. In fact, this puts a spotlight on the larger issue with the provincial system and why municipalities have been forced to deal with these issues themselves over and over again. It’s an ineffective approach, but the province has left them no choice.
It's worth noting that the provincial licensing system for zoos does not currently include regulations for exotic animals, leaving a significant gap that poses a risk to animal welfare, public safety, and the environment.
We will be watching these developments closely and keep you updated.
Did you know that zoos aren’t regulated in Ontario?
This is why municipalities deal individually with these issues and why we often have to go town-to-town to stop these reptile zoo and other facilities from opening.
We have shared these concerns with the Ontario government and need your voice.
Send a letter to the Solicitor General to urge Ontario to deal with this issue once and for all.