What every Tiger King fan should know about Canada’s own Joe Exotics
Tiger King seems to take place in a reality far, far away. However, you might be surprised to know that there are thousands of big cats being kept as pets and entertainers right here in Canada
It is thought that Canada is home to approximately 186,000 wild cats, ranging from servals to lions and tigers.
Tigers in Canada
While public opinion and regulations have evolved over the past decade, it is still possible in some areas of Canada to keep wild cats, including tigers. It is thought that Canada is home to approximately 186,000 wild cats, ranging from servals to lions and tigers. According to a 2019 survey, there are an estimated 2,383 tigers kept as pets in Canada. In reality, this number is likely higher since tigers and other wild cats living in zoos and roadside zoos/menageries are not included.
Fortunately, most Canadian provinces have banned the keeping of dangerous animals, including tigers. In some cases, it took a severe accident, like the death of a woman in British Columbia inflicted by a pet tiger, before the government banned the keeping of these magnificent but dangerous animals. Regrettably, there are still several provinces that do not ban the keeping of tigers and other wild cats at a provincial level, including Ontario. The lack of provincial regulations has likely resulted in Ontario becoming a hot spot for the keeping of wild exotic animals. Just over 40% of all exotic wild animals kept as pets can be found in Ontario.
The unregulated exotic pet trade in Canada
When a province fails to regulate the keeping of exotic animals, the responsibility to ban or regulate the keeping of exotic wild pets fall with each individual municipality. This gives exotic pet owners the opportunity to move around in the province and settle in municipalities that don’t have a ban. A good example is the recent case in southern Ontario, where an exotic animal owner of lions, tigers, serval, lynx and other animals, was ordered by the court to remove his animal from his property. The owner mentioned in a CBC article that a benefactor can take his wild cats up to northern Ontario for the time being. This case really strikes how important it is for the province of Ontario to regulate which animals can and cannot be kept by individuals.
Tigers aren’t the only exotic wild animals people keep as pets. Other popular wild animals owned as pets include snakes, parrots, geckos, turtles, fennec foxes, iguanas and servals, among many other species. Wild animals are those who live and breed in their natural environment without human interference. When bred in captivity, their behaviour may change due to being in close proximity with humans, however they remain wild, having similar traits (behaviours and psychological needs) as their wild counterparts. There is no way to replicate the space and freedom that wild animals need in a home environment. Wild animals suffer in captivity.
We need stronger laws to protect tigers and other wild animals nation-wide
Our analysis of Canada’s wild animal ownership laws found that many provinces fail to sufficiently restrict which animals can be owned as pets. Regions such as Ontario and the Northwest Territories do not regulate this issue at all at a provincial/territorial level. Other provinces have stronger laws, which have largely been developed in response to tragic incidents.
Inconsistent laws in Canada also mean that many wild animals can suffer as pets in some provinces and not others. For example, it is estimated that 70% of the servals kept as pets in Canada exist in B.C. and 15% exist in Ontario - provinces that allow ownership of these animals. In comparison, our data suggests that no servals are kept as pets in Quebec and Alberta - provinces that prohibit the ownership of these animals. It is also estimated that 713 of the tigers kept as pets in Canada are kept in Ontario.
Similar to Tiger King, there are locations in Canada where you can go to see tigers in cages and take photos with tiger cubs. In most cases, these venues are run by exotic animal enthusiasts who are able to keep a collection of wild animals due to the lack of existing or concise regulations. These places, better known as roadside zoos, house their animals in a similar way to Joe Exotic. Fencing, safety protocols, a lack of enrichment and the ability to touch the animals are inherent to these kinds of operations. Also, often owners will claim that their operation helps animals, is educational, and contributes to species conservation. But how can you distinguish a reputable rescue centre or from a place like Joe’s Exotic’s zoo?
What does a true big cat sanctuary look like?
A good sanctuary:
Does not breed animals unless they are being released into the wild
Does not accept more animals under its care than it can humanely manager
Does not use wild animals for entertainment (including touching or petting of animal)
Keeps animals in enclosures that closely resemble their natural habitat and give them enough space and opportunities to move and behave naturally
Does not remove animals from their enclosures for people to hold them.