Limerick Township council passed its exotic animal bylaw at its last council meeting on April 19. Based upon a template provided by Hastings County, the draft bylaw was brought before council at its March council meeting, and in the ensuing weeks was amended with input from council and experts on animal welfare, like Kelly Wallace, the managing director of the Think Turtle Conservation Initiative. The final Exotic Animal bylaw, #20-2115, was passed unanimously by council.
At the April 19 meeting, council had a brief discussion before passing the exotic animal bylaw. Councillor Jan MacKillican wondered why elk was on the list of banned animals. Councillor Ingo Weise responded to that query.
“We have eastern elk in Ontario and they’ve been brought from out west. The problem is that there are elk farms in Ontario, and they will breed with all wild elk. I believe the MNRF has some issues with elk and deer and that’s why it’s on there,” he says.
Councillor Kimberly Carson seconded that, saying they have wild elk in the area.
“We see them every once in a while, when we’re walking. If they breed with a domestic elk, they can wipe out the entire population of the wild elk,” she says.
Wallace sent a letter to council requesting that, in addition to keeping “red-eared sliders’[turtles] on the list, they add “yellow-bellied sliders [turtles] as well. The reasons for this were; to prohibit the sale and distribution of sliders under four inches in the community, to reduce potential salmonella carriers and the associated health concerns to the community (although it does not make the turtles sick, Salmonella can cause serious or even life-threatening infections in people), to protect the native turtle species population (the risk of getting salmonella from native turtle species is unlikely because they live in a much cleaner environment than pet sliders), other wildlife and their habitat and to protect red-eared and yellow-bellied sliders by breaking the supply and demand cycle. Council considered this and added the yellow-bellied sliders to their bylaw.
Victoria Tisdale, the clerk and treasurer, mentioned that in lieu of Rob Laidlaw, the executive director of Zoocheck Canada Inc. beingpresent for any questions, Michelle Hamers from World Animal Protection was there to field any queries from council, and there were none. At that point, Limerick’s Exotic Animal bylaw was passed by council.
Limerick council had discussed passing an exotic animal bylaw at its March 15 council meeting. With the controversy that has arisen from the Drysdale family in Hastings Highlands having exotic animals and wanting to keep them on their property, other municipalities in Hastings County are passing their own exotic animal bylaws, based upon a template they received from Hastings County.
Hastings County came up with a template for an exotic animal bylaw based upon requests from its member municipalities, who were looking for some guidance on how to proceed with regulating exotic animals within their own townships. The county had been working on coming up with this template since Dec. 2020, getting input from a variety of organizations that have experience dealing with exotic animals and bylaws related to them. It was unveiled in Feb. 2021.
One of the organizations Hastings County reached out to was Zoocheck Inc. Established in 1984, Zoocheck is a Canadian based international wildlife protection charity that promotes and protects the interests and well-being of wild animals. Laidlaw says they didn’t have anything to do with the passing of the Limerick Township bylaw, as they had made a recent query and found it was already on the council agenda so there was nothing they could do at that point.
“Of course, we were pleased to see the bylaw passed. In past months, when Hastings County was developing their exotic animal bylaw template, we were one of a number of groups that forwarded them material about exotic animal issues and concerns we hoped would help inform their deliberations,” he says.
Laidlaw adds that due to Ontario not regulating the keeping of exotic animals in captivity, municipalities who want to address existing exotic animal issues or who want to prevent exotic animal problems from occurring in the first place, should pass their own bylaws.
“This is something we have promoted in Ontario and across the country for more than three decades. In Ontario, bylaws are the primary vehicle for municipalities to gain control over what goes on within their boundaries. Today, very few municipalities are welcoming to exotic animals, especially dangerous species,” he says.
An organization that offered support and advice to Limerick was the Think Turtle Conservation Initiative. Kelly Wallace is its managing director and was pleased to see that they had taken the initiative and put an Exotic Animal bylaw into place. She says its important to have these bylaws for many reasons. Wild animals are not intended to be kept as pets and should be left in the wild and observed from a safe distance.
“Humans have overstepped these natural barriers by removing wild animals from their natural habitat, most often for financial gain in response to ‘supply and demand’ with people wanting to satisfy a whim to own a unique exotic animal species not native to Ontario,” she says.
Wallace says that behind the scenes it is often illegal activities that has contributed to how an exotic animal came to be available for purchase without thought to the consequences of these actions. She says that being in favour of exotic animal ownership is unintentionally supporting the illegal wildlife trade, a multi-billion-dollar global black market.
She goes on to say that these illegal activities encompass illegally collecting and removing wildlife from their natural habitat, wildlife being bought and sold as a commodity, deplorable transport and captivity conditions, illness and disease, cruelty and abuse, and the death of countless wildlife species. Of these, many are at risk species which command higher prices, driving threatened and endangered species closer to extinction.
“No matter how much an exotic animal owner may care about an exotic animal, they are not able to replicate their natural habitat, interactions with their own species, other species and the environment. Wild animals removed from their natural habitat or not with their own kind may suffer in ways we are not able to know,” she says.
In addition to the risk of attack by being too close to a wild animal, Wallace also mentioned the real prospect of disease transmission; from the animal to humans or the other way around. She says that having Exotic Animal bylaws are about protecting people, animals and communities and respecting the barriers that nature placed.
“Ontario is the only province that does not have legislation in place, other than orcas and pitbulls, making it all that more important for municipalities to see to this. Until such time it is wise and prudent for each municipality in Ontario to have an Exotic Animal bylaw in place,” she says.
The Hastings County template allowed councils that adopt it to regulate or prohibit the keeping of exotic animals within their borders. The exotic animals on the list in this template include big cats (lions, tigers, leopard, lynx, ocelot, serval), canidae (wolf, coyote, fox), non-human primates (lemurs, monkeys, apes), elephants, hippopotamus, camel, giraffe, zebra, tapir, rhinoceros, owls, hawks, eagles, harriers, osprey, common snapping turtles, crocodiles, alligators, caiman, reticulated python, ball python, boa constrictor, yellow anaconda and venomous snakes and lizards.
The aforementioned animals would be banned; however, the template legislation provides a grandfather clause, which would allow those who owned these animals before the bylaw was passed to keep them. This grandfathered status would be lost if the animal potentially jeopardizes the health of safety of any individual, it is improperly or unsafely housed, enclosed or cared for, or if it attacks a person or animal.
Victoria Tisdale, the clerk and treasurer, says that after they first looked at the bylaw in March, they had some input from the aforementioned Think Turtle Conservation Initiative and Zoocheck Canada Inc.
“Along with review from all council members and advice from Hastings County, we were able to create a bylaw for the provision of exotic animals,” she says. “This is becoming a fairly standard bylaw across Hastings County, with municipalities all over adopting the same type of bylaw.”
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times