Lions And Tigers And Bears In Your Backyard, Oh My Is That Legal?

Do We Have An Exotic Animal Problem With Mobile Zoos?

By Patrick Cullen
 Would you support a mobile zoo?

The City of Toronto has announced that they have an exotic animal problem and is having a tough time resolving it. A loophole in exotic animal ownership laws have allowed problematic “mobile zoo” ownership to flourish. A mobile zoo is a collection of exotic animals that is taken to events ranging from children’s birthday parties to company picnics. I’m not a legal expert but upon review of the National Observer’s article, there are animals that individuals are banned from owning and fines imposed on those in violation of these bans, mobile zoos, which are supposedly educational, are a way to avoid these bans and fines.

So essentially, if I’m understanding correctly, the law says that if you’re going to own animals that you’re banned from owning, you won’t get in trouble as long as you flaunt them around town, allow children to pet them in an irritating, provocative manner, and try to recite “panthera tigris” ten times fast in order to pass it all off as an educational venture. To me, that seems like a loophole that should be closed as quickly as possible and thankfully, that’s what the city is aiming to do.

 The legality is rather hair raising.

Unfortunately, little is known about the problem besides it’s existence. The manager of the city’s animal services department was quoted as saying, “We don’t know who’s bringing animals into the city, what kind of animals they’re bringing into the city and where they’re using these animals and how they’re using these animals.” Even data on mobile zoos, which have been targeted as the foremost culprits, is a little sketchy. Last year, The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals only had five mobile zoos on their records as having registered with their organization. Zoocheck, an animal rights group that functions as an investigative body when called for reported that there are upwards of 70 mobile zoos operating in the Greater Toronto Area. That disparity in how many of these mobile zoos are believed to be running only gives rise to more question marks.

From a legislative perspective, Toronto’s government needs to make moves. If loopholes in simplistic, outdated laws are the root of the problem, lawmakers must address this. While the wolf pack’s antics involving Mike Tyson’s tiger in The Hangover was a riot, exotic animal ownership is rarely something to be taken that lightly. A zookeeper in the UK was killed by a tiger inside it’s enclosure back in May and that was in a zoo setting that’s an extremely controlled environment staffed by well trained professionals. It’s unlikely to think that a private owner would fare much better. In 2011, the troubled owner of a private zoo in Ohio released fifty something animals from the zoo before taking his own life, leaving the town to deal with the lions, tigers, bears, wolves, and other animals that were suddenly walking its streets. Sadly there were few options but for law enforcement to shoot and kill most of the animals, with the handful of others being caught and transferred to local zoos.

Beyond horror stories such as these, exotic animal ownership allows the transfer of dangerous diseases, puts health and lives at risk, and in almost all cases, gives the animal a reduced quality of life. While we sit twiddling our thumbs waiting for the sluggish political process to do its thing to protect exotic animals from mistreatment and the brutal security lines and cost of tiger-sized neck pillows that must go along with being a mobile zoo, people can make a difference by exercising common sense, which in theory, should be easy enough. These are awesome animals but you can’t ignore the fact that they were born to live in the wild and are wired with instincts that help them survive. So while I think it’d be cool to own a tiger or a lion, the most basic utilization of common sense tells me my two bedroom apartment wouldn’t be accommodating, my roommate wouldn’t be receptive, and the leftover chicken in my fridge wouldn’t be satisfying enough to a full grown big cat. Hopefully your thinking is the same and if it is, speak up. Friends don’t let friends buy things that can eat them.