Serval roadside zoo

Kangaroo incident raises concerns over animal welfare at roadside zoos

Ontario’s got a bit of good news yesterday when it was announced that a kangaroo that went missing was found and in good health. But, some, including the head of the Toronto Zoo, are asking why the kangaroo was put in that position.

In the wee hours of the morning on Dec. 4, Durham Regional Police announced on social media that they successfully located a missing kangaroo at around 3 a.m. Swift communication with the kangaroo’s handlers enabled officers to safely apprehend it by approximately 6 a.m. The marsupial, part of a duo en route to a zoo in Quebec, had eluded its handlers from the Oshawa Zoo and Fun Farm on Thursday night.

World Animal Protection Canada and the Toronto Zoo issued a statement of gratitude for the safe capture of the kangaroo but expressed concern regarding the continued presence of Ontario’s so-called “roadside zoos” and lack of regulation.

The group cited the escape of a serval (a type of wild cat native to Africa) that went missing from Waddles ‘n’ Wages, a similar roadside zoo facility in Eganville over a month ago. It was never found.

Michèle Hamers, Wildlife Campaign Manager for World Animal Protection Canada (WAP), underscored the critical gaps in laws and regulations governing captive wildlife, whether in the context of inter-provincial wildlife trade, a federal jurisdiction, or the oversight of thousands of captive wild animals in Ontario’s roadside zoos.

“Because there is no oversight, we have no idea where this kangaroo came from, whether the animal was transported in suitable conditions, the vaccination status of the animal, or any requirements for facilities accepting the animal, even temporarily,” she said, in a press release. 

The Oshawa Zoo, an unregulated facility, was among the 11 zoos scrutinized in the 2022 World Animal Protection investigation “Nothing New at the Zoo.” Following the incident, according to WAP, a complaint was filed with the PAWS inspectorate, citing deficiencies in basic standards of care at the Oshawa Zoo.

Dolf DeJong, CEO of the Toronto Zoo, emphasizes the prevalence of private owners and unaccredited facilities in communities, lacking proper systems and training for ensuring animal well-being and welfare. As an AZA-accredited not-for-profit organization, the Toronto Zoo advocates for stricter regulations to safeguard exotic animals in unaccredited roadside zoos and private ownership.

“We strongly urge the Government of Ontario to enforce the existing and further strengthen regulations to truly protect exotic animals currently in unaccredited roadside zoos and in private ownership,” DeJong said. “This is the right thing to do to improve the quality of care for these animals and in the interest of public health and safety.”

The absence of a government agency responsible for tracking and overseeing the movement of captive non-native wildlife across the country is highlighted by WAP polling. The polling revealed an estimated 1.4 million non-native wild animals kept as pets nationwide, with nearly 600,000 in Ontario, the highest in any province or territory.

According to an earlier WAP report, Ontario ranks dead last for not having any provincial zoo licensing system, permit system for non-native species, public safety and security standards nor a requirement for liability insurance for zoo operators. Basically, anyone can open and operate a zoo in the province.

“In Ontario, you don’t need expertise, a reason or a licence to operate a zoo or buy dangerous animals like a tiger or lion,” said Hamers.

In Ontario, the regulation of roadside zoos falls largely under municipal jurisdiction, with only half having any form of regulations. Oshawa’s by-laws, according to WAP, prohibit the keeping of kangaroos except in municipally-run zoos, raising concerns about the kangaroos at the Oshawa Zoo and the broader trade of such animals.

Both World Animal Protection and the Toronto Zoo are strong advocates for an overhaul of Ontario’s captive wildlife system and endorse the Jane Goodall Act, currently under consideration by the Senate.

The proposed legislation, which was reintroduced by Senator Marty Klyne on March 22, 2022, and aims to significantly restrict the ownership of wild animals in Canada, potentially leading to the closure of many under-regulated substandard zoos, commonly known as roadside zoos.

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