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A white african lion was shot and killed at the Papanack Zoo in Wendover, Ontario, on February 28, 2016, when it escaped its enclosure. The zoo released a statement to the public that the cause of the lion's escape, was due to human error. The decision was taken by zoo officials to shoot the lion, as the risk to staff was deemed too high to attempt to tranquilize and preserve its life. The zoo was not open to the public at the time. An unfortunate end to a life that could have been spared if zoo staff were better prepared and equipped to deal with a situation of this nature.

This unfortunate incident is not the first time an exotic animal has escaped from a road-side zoo in Ontario. Zoocheck reports that a tiger had escaped from its enclosure in 2005 from the Papanack Zoo, when it was under different ownership. In that instance however, the animal was successfully tranquilized and returned to its enclosure. This raises the question as to why the new owners of papanack zoo were unable to immobilize this lion, thus saving its life.

Safety reports released by both Zoocheck and World Society for the Protection of Animals, report that 100s of wild animals have escaped from zoos or private collections in Ontario since 1985, and in some cases, people or animals have been attacked.

In 2012 a cougar was spotted in the Muskoka area. Police eventually caught up with it, and it was shot and killed after it had killed a family pet. An examination later revealed that the cougar was declawed and well-fed, indicating that it was once a captive animal.

Under the current laws in Ontario, dogs must be licensed. When it comes to exotic animals however, zoos, entertainment companies and private individuals do not currently require a license to own exotic animals such as lions, tigers or elephants? In addition, anyone can open a zoo to the public and exhibit exotic animals with no requirement for training, experience or expertise.

In Ontario, there are minimal requirements for animals in captivity under the OSPCA Act, but these regulations do not current reflect the specific and special care and housing needs of exotic species such as lions, tigers, water buffalo and elephants for example. The lack of requirements and standards in the current laws for exotic animals, not only puts these wild animals in zoos at risk, but also the public in the event of an incident involving an escaped animal.

All other provinces in Canada require a permit to own exotic species like lions and tigers and elephants, or there is an outright ban on these species as pets. Ontario is the ONLY province which does not have such a requirement. Previous attempts such as Bill 125, to bring in legislation for exotic animals, has failed. The current responsibility for exotic animals falls under local exotic-animal bylaws within individual cities, towns and municipalities in this province. The problem with local by-laws is that there is no consistent standard amongst cities as to how to define "exotic animal", what the minimum requirements of care or housing should be, or details of any specific training or qualifications that zoo staff should have, to work with exotic animals.

It should be noted that while the Ontario government has given some regulatory powers to the OSPCA, these powers do not appear to be sufficient to deal with the complex needs associated with keeping captive wildlife. A licensing system similar to the one in Alberta would be best if this province is serious about trying to properly regulate captive wildlife facilities.

Link to the current policy on exotic animals in BC: 

If we continue to allow zoos to own exotic animals, then we must do a better job by introducing regulations that protect these animals in requiring specific standards for their care and protection and through monitoring of their operations. We need to ensure that ALL animals in captivity are being kept in adequate facilities specific to their needs, and to ensure that zoo operators, staff and exhibitors have adequate knowledge of and experience in working with these types of animals. We also need to ensure that all zoos have a plan in place to prevent animals from having to be destroyed, due to lack of experience,  proper resources and emergency plans with which to bring situations such as that involving escaped animals, to a constructive conclusion. If zoos cannot meet these expectations, then we need to think about banning exotic animals altogether, in this province.


We, the undersigned, call on the Honourable Sylvia Jones, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services to pass legislation making it MANDATORY for ALL facilities that possess exotic animals that cannot be returned to the wild to :

1. Be licensed in the province of Ontario.
2. Submit to yearly inspections as a mandatory requirement for renewing their licenses, to ensure that facilities that house exotic animals and animals in captivity, are adequate for the specific needs of the animal, and that the facilities continue to be safe for both the animal, staff and the public.
3. To provide proof that operators and staff are adequately trained and have prior experience in working with exotic animals.
4. To show proof of and have emergency protocols in place to deal with situations involving animals who have escaped their enclosures. These protocols must include access to immobilizing drugs and that staff are trained in how to use them effectively. All staff should be properly trained and familiar with emergency plans and equipment. An emergency procedures manual should be kept up-to-date and all staff should be required to review this material regularly. Regular drills should be conducted to ensure all staff are prepared in case of an emergency.


- February 18, 2017 - Venomous snakes stolen from a Thorold home in the Niagara Region. Thieves targeted a home where it appears the snakes may have been part of a breeding program as part of a reptile selling business. Among the snakes stolen were vipers including several juvenile cobras, rattlesnakes, adders, and a pregnant albino boa constrictor.

- January 19, 2017 - Vandalism was responsible for the escape of a bald eagle who was housed along with one other at the Chippewa Wildlife Park in Thunder Bay. According to Gordon John, the acting parks manager, someone snuck into the park and smashed a lock on a door to the cage where they keep two bald eagles and cut a three-metre flap in the fence. While bald eagles in the wild could fend for themselves, these eagles were born in captivity, and had been living at the zoo for 10 years. They would have no skills with which to hunt for food on their own. 

- August 2016 - A caretaker at the Granby Zoo in Quebec was mauled by a female lion, when the caretaker entered her enclosure to carry out feeding routines. Zoo officials were able to drive off the female lion using a high-powered pressure hose and CO2 gas.

- May 22, 2016 - A man stripped naked and jumped into the lion enclosure at a Santiago zoo in Chile. As two lions attacked the man, who was reportedly suicidal, zoo authorities had to kill the lions, to protect him.

- A caretaker at the Granby Zoo in Quebec was mauled by a female lion, when the caretaker entered her enclosure to carry out feeding routines. Zoo officials were able to drive off the female lion using a high-powered pressure hose and CO2 gas.

- May 22, 2016 - A drunk man jumped into a lion enclosure at Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad was rescued unhurt by an alert animal keeper who diverted the lion’s attention.

- Dec 18, 2015 - Canada, BC: Creston RCMP say a cheetah was spotted along Highway 3a in the Crawford Bay and Kootenay Bay areas. The cheetah was seen at the side of the road near Kootenay Bay by a motorist who took some pictures of the cat wearing an orange cloth collar and called the RCMP.

- July 2012 - Viveka Nanda Guha, owner of Guha’s Tigers and Lions Farm in the Muskokas, was charged under the Ontario SPCA Act after a cougar escaped from his private menagerie. The cougar was shot and killed by police after it mauled a neighbouring family’s dog, which was later euthanized. At the time Guha told reporters that the cougar wasn’t his. Guha said all of his wild cats, which included six lions, two cougars and a jaguar, were all accounted for and secure in their cages. Guha later pleaded guilty and was fined and banned from owning domestic or exotic animals.

- In 2008, a black jaguar escaped its chain-link enclosure at Guha’s farm. Police were dispatched because Guha apparently didn’t have a firearm or tranquillizer gun. He also didn’t have a fence around his farm.

- Summer of 2007, a tapir named Stanley went on the lam for more than two weeks from Zooz Nature Park near Fort Erie. The long-nosed herbivore native to Brazil was recaptured after zookeepers and police received a tip. Zooz manager Tim Tykolis said Stanley apparently tripped a wire that would normally deliver a mild electric shock. Tykolis said Stanley wasn’t dangerous unless cornered, but Zoocheck Canada countered that a Malayan tapir seriously injured a zoo keeper at the Oklahoma City Zoo in 1998.

- Late summer of 2007, a 300-pound Syrian brown bear named Willy led emergency officials on a 14-hour chase through wooded areas around Zooz after he burrowed out of his enclosure. After an investigation, Niagara police said the zoo did not break any provincial law or municipal bylaw and there was no evidence of negligence. The search for Willy cost $20,000, mostly for police overtime.

- In May 2007, a 32 year old British Columbian woman bled to death after being mauled by a tiger while she was standing next to the animal’s cage. The cat was owned by the woman’s boyfriend, who used the cat for public photo sessions on the property, as well as photo displays in shopping malls and at children’s parties.

- 16 year old employee of the Dornoch Zoo in Grey County, Ontario was mauled by a female lion while conducting a tour of the zoo facility. The lion swiped at the girl through the bars of the enclosure cutting the girl’s forehead and arm.

- In September 2005, Neekeeshia, a 500-pound Siberian tiger, slipped under a fence at the Papanack Zoo in Wendover and made her way onto the road. A driver spotted her and kept an eye on the tiger as she moved into a backyard across the street from the zoo, then called police. Keith and Diane Forgie, who lived in the home and owned the zoo at the time, tranquilized the tiger. Mr. Forgie said Neekeeshia was back in her pen within a half-hour.

- In 1997, two Siberian tigers broke out of the Lickety Split Zoo near London, Ont.  when they jumped against their cage, knocking it down. They were captured within four hours.

- In 1996, four tigers escaped from their enclosure at the Elmvale Jungle Zoo, reportedly after vandals broke the lock. A 700-pound tiger was shot after it attacked a camel, and the other three were soon returned to the enclosure. “We were lucky the cat went after the camel instead of someone outside,” said zoo owner Sam Persi.


Link to images provided by Zoocheck of current lion enclosures at different zoos in Ontario:

Ontario Zoo Review Series - #4 - Papanack Zoo - August 2008 - Zoocheck:

Wild Neighbors - The Safety and Security of Ontario's Wildlife in Captivity Facilities - Safety Report - 2010 - WSPA and Zoocheck:

Special Note: SECTION 4 of the WSPA/Zoocheck report features recommendations that were presented to the provincial government on the requirements for safe and adequate enclosures for animals.

MEDIA REPORTS (March 2016) (March 2016)