Monday, December 13, 2010

Exotic Animals Killed After Sanctuary Denial in Thorold, Ontario

On Nov. 26, the Toronto Sun started an article with: “An Ontario family that had three lions and six monkeys euthanized is blaming a city council decision that denied their request for an exotic pet sanctuary.”

A lion and her cub — not killed in Ontario.The animals were killed, slaughtered, butchered or even executed, but not euthanized. Euthanasia is the last gift you can provide the terminally suffering of any species (including human) where there is no hope for survival or comforting palliative care, and that clearly does not apply to this situation. And since these animals were killed, the term “sanctuary” also is inappropriate.

This “sanctuary” was set up within the jurisdiction of Thorold, a city of fewer than 20,000 citizens not far from Niagara Falls, Ontario. Local bylaw(called “ordinances” in the United States) did not allow the keeping of these animals. My colleagues and I work hard to see such bylaws put in place, because at the moment, Ontario is the single remaining province without any kind of zoo licensing. There currently is a bill before provincial parliament that, if passed, will at least provide some level of licensing, but there is no guarantee it will pass. Anyone can own any kind of exotic animal so long as it was acquired legally and no local bylaws prohibit it. No one knows how many lions, cobras, bears, apes and alligators are in how many barns, garages and basements in Ontario.

The animals killed (three lions and six “monkeys”) were allegedly, at least some of them, former “pets.” The animals were — according to the people charged under the Ontario Planning Act, Chris and Sharon Morabito — “unwanted” animals turned over by former owners. It reportedly was claimed that no zoo would take them because the sanctuary was not accredited. But there is no such thing in Ontario as sanctuary accreditation. There is a zoo accreditation program run by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA), although it hardly is rigorous in enforcing what relatively minimal standards it sets for zoos (but not sanctuaries).

However, according to the news story, the Thorold “sanctuary” was not given rezoning at least in part because it was not “accredited.” The Thorold City Council is being blamed by the people charged for not OK’ing the sanctuary after the fact. But if the place was not zoned to allow the keeping of exotic animals, what did they expect? The Sun article states: “The Morabitos said the family has received conflicting opinions and orders from the city’s planning department.” But the city is claiming that it already had issued a “stop order” and that it was ignored. If there is conflict, first get it resolved!

Surely the Morabitos’ credibility was compromised a year earlier when Niagara police found marijuana growing on the property. Also present at the time were lions, a three-legged jaguar, parrots and monkeys in various cages and enclosures. The Lincoln County Humane Society was satisfied that there were no cruelty violations, but that does not placate my annoyance at the situation that led to the deaths of these “unwanted” animals in late November. The Morabitos also claim that having been to court four times, they are bankrupt.

I am no stickler who would put rules and regulations over what I would believe to be the morally correct thing to do for anyone, human or animal, although with the understanding that there can be consequences when one ignores the law. But there are too many of these “sanctuaries” claiming to be for “educational” or “rehabilitation” purposes, and which too often manage to attract devoted followers but don’t really serve the interests of animals. Just recently one of the sleazier private zoos in Ontario, also claiming to hold “unwanted” animals, finally closed, and yet it had the staunch support of a Toronto Sun columnist who seemed to think that because the animals were “unwanted” the owner was some sort of saint. Admittedly when I was young I once supported a similar enterprise, until I learned that when I found a better home for the “unwanted” animals, the guy I had trusted would not turn them over. He was simply using the animals to justify endless donations from well-intentioned people as na├»ve as I had been.

There are solutions. Most of all I would like to see very strict bans on the import, sale, breeding and ownership of these “exotic” animals, but that isn’t going to happen. Right-wing politicians put the “right” of people to do as they please, and to make money, way ahead of any interest in protecting the animals, or the
environment, or people at risk from inherently dangerous animal species. In the United States, Congress — having already banned the interstate movement of big cats as pets — is now considering adding primates to the list of prohibited species.)

Born Free USA runs a genuine animal sanctuary in Texas, but done properly, with no contempt for local laws and regulations and under solid management. Such sanctuaries are essential; there is a desperate need for them as more and more animals not suitable as pets are being sold by the exotic pet industry. But to work they must meet certain qualifications. That is why the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries was formed. The GFAS needs to have a global presence, to assure that sanctuaries really do serve the interest of those animals nobody wants, and that there are very specific, identifiably effectual standards to be met for meaningful accreditation for vitally required animal rescue and long-term care. Our own Adam Roberts, one of the busiest animal protectionists I know, takes the time to be the current president of GFAS.

Animal sanctuaries are essential, but in order to avoid the kind of fiasco that led to the deaths of innocent animals in Thorold last month they must be properly constituted, funded and managed. GFAS is the best bet we have for that to happen.

Barry Kent MacKay
Born Free USA
Zoocheck Canada