Ikea monkey highlights lack of exotic animal regulations in Canada



When Darwin the monkey was spotted at a Toronto Ikea store on Sunday in his shearling coat, people snapped photos and cracked jokes.

But the appearance of the rhesus macaque in public raises the serious and often overlooked issue of exotic animal legislation in Canada - a spotty patchwork of rules that puts public safety and animal welfare at risk.

Rob Laidlaw, executive director of Zoocheck Canada, says he wasn't surprised by the story. There are no federal regulations outlawing or restricting the ownership of exotic animals in Canada, and although there are provincial regulations regulating certain species in provinces such as British Columbia and Alberta, "we've got no consistency from province to province," he said.

Ontario lacks provincial laws that regulate exotic wildlife. Toronto has a municipal ban on exotic wildlife, but as with other municipalities with similar bans, enforcement is complaint-based.

"What we're left with is individual municipalities who have the authority, because it's been delegated to them by the province, to control animals within their boundaries," he said. "We're really behind the times."

That used to be the case in British Columbia. But in 2007, a 32-year-old woman in 100 Mile House died after she was mauled by her boyfriend's pet tiger. "That finally made the ministry stand up and say that this is a public-safety issue," said Sara Dubois, manager of wildlife services for the BC SPCA.

The province introduced legislation regulating the ownership of about 1,200 species of exotic, or non-native, wildlife in 2008. To account for people who already owned animals covered under the legislation, B.C. required their owners to obtain a permit valid for the life of the animal.

The B.C. legislation is a "good first step," Dubois says. "Other provinces should follow quickly behind, and federally there's no reason why we can't have some federal protection for these animals, and move into protecting animal welfare as well as public safety."

Exotic animals can be a public-safety hazard, especially in the case of big cats or monkeys, which carry diseases that can transfer to humans and pets, and they can also pose a threat to environmental ecosystems if they escape captivity.

And a life in captivity - being treated as a human in what Dubois calls the Disneyfication of exotic animals - is not a happy life for a monkey.

Darwin has been moved to a primate sanctuary north of Toronto. His owner was fined $240.

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