Few rules govern wild animal zoos as species bought and sold on the Internet
May 24, 2007 04:30 AM
In the market for a pet cat? One with a pedigree and a three-figure price tag, rather than a Humane Society hand-me-down?
It could be cheaper to buy a tiger.
“We’ve seen tigers change hands for as little as $100 in this province,” says Rob Laidlaw, director of Zoocheck Canada, set up in 1984 to fight for the well-being of wild animals. “Lions and tigers are a dime a dozen, there are so many around.”
A red kangaroo, on the other hand, costs about $3,000 (U.S.), according to the Sydney tabloid Daily Telegraph. The paper sparked outrage across Australia last week with its stories about Tyson, a red kangaroo — “Australia’s national icon” – being kept in “abominable” conditions at the Lickety Split Ranch and Zoo outside London, Ont.
Lickety Split, called the “worst zoo in Canada” by the Toronto-based World Society for the Protection of Animals, has closed, at least temporarily. But it’s only one of about 45 roadside zoos around Ontario, society spokesperson Melissa Tkachyk says. Provincial regulations governing how they treat their animals are almost non-existent.
Stocking a zoo isn’t quite as simple as dropping in at your neighbourhood pet store, Tkachyk and Laidlaw say. But even if your only previous experience with animals has been clicking a computer mouse, that’s enough to get you on your way.
“Dead easy,” Laidlaw says. “There are Internet sites, trade magazines, lots of people who breed exotic animals in their backyard or basement. You might need to spend some time getting to know who’s who but there are a tremendous number of people who exchange these animals, often with no questions asked.”
Red kangaroos, the world’s largest marsupials, are mostly bred for sale in the United States, the Telegraph says.
Exoticpetsandprimates.com, based in New Orleans, boasts, “If you are looking to buy an exotic animal of any sort, you have come to the right place… from antelopes to zebras.”
Another American website says tigers are the “most-purchased cat,” followed by cougars, bobcats and lions.
“Tigers are the most popular animal to exhibit and also the most dangerous,” Tkachyk says. “You see so many at these roadside zoos. There are places that look as if they have a surplus. You might expect one or two but at some you see lots of tigers.”
The Lickety Split website lists two tigers, two lions and a cougar. Zoo personnel wouldn’t allow the Toronto Star inside the ramshackle, debris-strewn premises last week. But from the fence, it was possible to see a cougar lying in a small cage.
Once or twice a year, Tkachyk says, there are animal auctions, billed as “odd and unusual,” at places such as Waterloo and St. Jacob’s. One, held April 21, was at the Ontario Livestock Exchange in Waterloo, organized by Tiger Paw Exotics, of Arthur, Ont., a “family-oriented business” founded in 1990 by Tim Height. Efforts to reach him yesterday were unsuccessful.
Animals listed for sale included zebras, a camel, a ring-tailed lemur, an African crested porcupine and a wallaby. Wallabies, says Laidlaw, “are very common in the trade. There are not so many kangaroos.”
Many people seeking a kangaroo don’t know how to care for them, Australian Wildlife Protection Council president Maryland Wilson told the Telegraph. “This has been highlighted by the case of Tyson … His muscles have deteriorated … he is really just waiting to die.”