Editorial: Exotic-animal regulations necessary


Owning exotic pets is a growing problem, posing dangers to humans, to the environment and to the animals themselves. But the issue is poorly regulated, with laws varying from one level of government to another, and from province to province.

Canada’s laws regarding exotic pets are inconsistent and spread across several departments. This should be remedied with regulations applicable across the country and administered by one federal ministry.

B.C. could serve as an example. While most provinces have some sort of regulation regarding the keeping of exotic animals, they vary widely in scope and depth. Saskatchewan and Quebec provide lists of animals that do and don’t require permits. The Ontario government bans only two kinds of animals: pit bulls and killer whales, leaving all the rest up to the discretion of municipalities. Only B.C. has banned certain species outright and has imposed restrictions on others — its list of banned animals includes more than 1,300 species.

The Times Colonist has been printing a series of Canadian Press articles on exotic animals — defined as those taken from the wild or bred in captivity and not native to the country. Animal-welfare activists interviewed for the series blame the patchwork of outdated and inconsistent laws for the growing trend of exotic-animal ownership in Canada and elsewhere.

Many such animals are endangered or threatened in their natural environment, and allowing trade further threatens them. It feeds the flourishing black market — wildlife is the fourth-largest illegal trade in the world after drugs, counterfeit money and human trafficking, says the World Wildlife Fund.

Cats and dogs make good pets because they have evolved with humans. They depend on humans for their very existence, in most cases. Their habitat is our habitat.

Not so tigers, serval cats, pythons, monkeys and other wild animals. Their place is in the wild. Even if bred in captivity, they are not in their natural habitat and can never fully function as they are meant to if kept captive.

If you keep one of these animals, you are not their friend or surrogate family member, you are their warden. Your vanity, misplaced compassion or desire for an unusual fashion accessory is cruel.

That doesn’t apply to those many wise and compassionate people who rescue such animals and help them live out their lives in reasonable comfort.

This was the purpose of the World Parrot Sanctuary in Coombs, which took in hundreds of birds their owners could no longer keep. Many parrots and related species live in flocks in the wild and are social animals — a cage in a human home is no substitute for a rainforest canopy.

Some people are captivated by cuteness — that fuzzy tiger cub is just so adorable, but as it grows, it requires vast outlays of money for food or it suffers from malnourishment.

And it’s no longer cute and cuddly, but a danger to humans, as are many other exotic animals. New Brunswick is revising its laws on exotic animals after two toddlers were killed by a python. B.C. revamped its wildlife laws after a woman had her leg sliced by a captive tiger in 2007 and bled to death.

And they carry diseases — many cases of salmonella have been linked to handling of captive reptiles.

Animals can be loved and valued family members, but even conventional pets involve responsibilities that not everyone can fulfil — think of the rabbits abandoned at the Helmcken overpass and other areas in the region.

Wild animals belong in the wild, not in cages, not chained up in back yards.

The federal government should do its part by making such captivity illegal.

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