Today Zoocheck received a flurry of telephone calls from local and national media seeking commentary on the death of big cat owner Norm Buwalda who was killed on the weekend by his 294 kg pet tiger.
Mr. Buwalda was a vigorous defender of big cat keeping, even after one of his tigers attacked and injured a 10 year old boy in 2004. Reportedly, the cat was being taken out on a chain leash, when the boy fell triggering the tiger to attack.
After that incident, Southwold Township passed a bylaw prohibiting the keeping of big cats and other dangerous animals but Buwalda hired a lawyer, fought the law and won. The judge in the case criticized the law as being too broad and he dismissed the Township’s argument that “properly confined” exotic animals were still dangerous.
The judge seemed to miss the fact that not only must the caging of animals be adequate to contain them, and include all of the standard safety measures, such as double door entry gates and secure segregation areas, but the handling and management of animals must also be safe.
Buwalda was listed as the Chairperson of the Exotic Animal’s Owner Association, a group that, among other things, aims “to assist municipalities and keepers with the safe and humane housing of exotic animals.” One has to wonder what that organization promotes when its own Chairperson engages in the rather foolhardy practice of entering a cage containing an adult tiger during feeding time.
Ultimately though, the responsibility for Bulwalda’s death lies with the Government of Ontario. Despite thousands of letters, dozens of reports, hundreds of media stories, four private member’s bills, several internal study groups, several deaths, numerous injuries and loads of dangerous animal escapes, the Ontario government has steadfastly refused to control the trade and keeping of wild animals as pets.
It doesn’t make any sense. Hot dog vendors and taxi cab drivers are regulated to the hilt, but people owning tigers and spitting cobras, that can kill them or their neighbours in an instant, don’t require any license at all.
As it stands now, anyone in Ontario can easily and cheaply acquire a tiger, lion, wolf, monkey or cobra as a pet. There are no laws against it and there are no laws setting standards of housing, care or safety.
It may seem like a no-brainer that these kinds of animals don’t make good pets and can be extremely dangerous. Whether its’ stupidity, ego or another reason, the fact remains that there will always be a segment of society that wants these kinds of animals. Those people put themselves, visitors to their properties, neighbours and communities at risk.
Other jurisdictions in Canada and around the world already prohibit the keeping of big cats and other dangerous animals as pets. It’s time Ontario did the same. Buwalda isn’t the first person to be killed by a wild animal pet in the province, but he should be the last.