Canada’s “Tiger Kings” Keep Thousands of Big Cats in Backyard Cages

Nearly every animal exhibitor from season one of Netflix’s Tiger King is reportedly now in jail, shut down, or facing lawsuits or criminal charges. But that still hasn’t dissuaded Canada’s wannabe “Tiger Kings”.

Canada is home to an estimated 4,000 privately-owned big cats, including lions, tigers, and jaguars. Living in backyard cages or shabby roadside zoos, their unique social, environmental, psychological, and physical needs are not being met. For many, there are practically no rules or oversight.

Ontario has become the roadside zoo capital of the country. Ontario doesn’t license or regulate zoos, and has no exotic animal ownership restrictions—meaning that anyone can buy lions or tigers and open a for-profit facility. Zoos in Ontario and many other provinces aren’t subject to mandatory inspections. This lax oversight model leaves animals to suffer in cramped, inadequate conditions. But it also threatens public safety. In 2016, a lion named Zeus was shot and killed by zoo staff at Papanack Zoo, a roadside zoo near Ottawa, after escaping from his enclosure.

The same zoo was the subject of secretly recorded video footage released by Animal Justice that revealed a zoo manager describing how he trained a lion cub by repeatedly hitting the animal in the face, a baby cougar being used as a selfie prop for visitors instead of being with his mother, and several large cats engaging in repetitive, stereotypic behaviours such as pacing and rocking.

Most Canadians are against keeping animals captive in zoos and aquariums, and even fewer people support keeping animals in unregulated zoos and roadside attractions. It’s time for our laws to catch up to changing public attitudes on this important issue.

That’s why Animal Justice has joined with other animal advocacy groups in supporting Bill S-241. Authored by the Honourable Murray Sinclair and now spearheaded by Senator Marty Klyne, the bill is known as the Jane Goodall Act and it would limit the ability of individuals and most zoos to import, keep, or breed big cats, in addition to other positive steps for exotic and wild animals.

In a recent coalition statement, the groups wrote:

“Protecting wildlife is not a partisan issue. It’s a national and international issue – one that should concern everyone. The Jane Goodall Act is Canada’s chance to lead and make a difference for our fellow creatures at this pivotal time for the natural world. We therefore ask you – as federal Ministers, MPs, and Senators – to lead the way on Canadians’ behalf and prioritize the Jane Goodall Act for passage into law as soon as possible.”

Parliament returns on 19 September, and big cats urgently need legislation to protect them from captivity, enhance public safety, and support wildlife conservation. Please take action to call on federal ministers to do everything they can to prioritize the Jane Goodall Act for passage into law.

Banner: Jo-Anne McArthur | ZOOCHECK | We Animals Media