by: Kate Dubinski, London Free Press
Eighteen animals, including a lion, were removed last night from a home near here that bills itself as a wildlife education centre.
Officers with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also removed eight dogs, six cats, two cockatoos and one turtle from the Kerwood Wildlife Education Centre after receiving complaints about animals in distress.
“There was a concern about lack of proper care and animals in distress, about them living in a confined space with inadequate ventilation,” said Darren Grandel, a senior OSPCA inspector. “The lion was housed in a very restrictive pen, and we were also concerned he wasn’t getting proper food and water.”
The centre, about 15 kilo-metres northwest of Strathroy, is open year-round and offers private and group tours, as well as photo opportunities with the exotic animals.
Locals who didn’t want their names used said they hadn’t seen many customers lately, but school groups had toured the place in the past.
“The (lion’s) pen was built into the wall,” Grandel said. “He was in his own filth and there were free-roaming dogs running near the cage. You can imagine how stressful that is for the lion, especially if he’s hungry.”
The lion, which weighed 41 kilograms, was going to be walked out of the home by officials, but was too distressed. He was put in a special cage and carried out instead.
The OSPCA officials, with the help of the Ontario Provincial Police, arrived at the home yesterday afternoon, said Const. Doug Graham. A veterinarian with knowledge of exotic animals was also called to check on the animals to determine which should be removed.
Twenty-three wolves, coyotes and wolf-dog hybrids were to stay on the farm overnight because a handler who lives on the property was there to feed and care for them. Also left on the property were chickens, geese, goats, cattle, deer, a horse and a donkey.
“The dogs will likely require medical attention,” Grandel said. “Now we start the process of medicating them, giving them food and water.”
It’s not clear who called animal welfare officials.
“There were some dead animals in the home, but they were being used for the feeding of the others,” Grandel said. The stench of dead flesh could be smelled from the road, more than 30 metres from the home.
“The Kerwood Wildlife Education Centre is not a zoo but rather an educational facility dedicated to the preservation and conservation of wolves, other indigenous species and big cats such as tigers worldwide,” according to the facility’s website. The site also includes pictures of foxes and tigers.
Calls to the facility were not returned last night.
The domestic animals taken from the home were taken to shelters. The lion was taken to a location in central Ontario equipped to handle it.
The owners of the facility can be charged with cruelty to animals under the criminal code.
The centre is located at Langan Drive and Highway 6 in Middlesex County. It used to be called the Wolf Education Centre, according to its website.
The facility, says its website, is licensed and inspected by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources under the Wildlife in Captivity Regulation within the Fish & Wildlife Conservation Act. OSPCA officials are looking into that claim.
That applies to animals native to Ontario. There is no legislation that covers exotic animals such as lions and tigers, something animal rights and welfare officials have been trying to change for years.
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