Thursday, October 18, 2007

Letters Needed: No Roadside Zoos in Thorold!

Earlier this year, The Exotic Animal Refuge Sanctuary (TEARS), claiming to be a non-profit registered charity, applied to the Regional Municipality of Niagara to build a public display facility in Thorold at the corner of Kottmeier and Holland Roads.

In July, the proposal was rejected by Thorold City Council because the applicants had repeatedly violated a number of municipal bylaws. According to newspaper reports, many councillors spoke in favour of the project, but couldn’t support the proposal due to a number of regulations that were broken.

“I like the people and I think they want to help the community,” Councillor Fred Neale said. “But there are certain rules and regulations that have to be followed.”

A detailed report recommended council reject the proposal based on a number of instances when stop work orders were ignored and building and tree removal occurred without proper permits. The report stated that to date construction continues on the property despite constant reminders to the owners to cease all work.

The report also noted the land is currently zoned prime agricultural and a consultant's report provided by the proponent didn't convince city staff that alternative locations had been sought.

Another issue city staff had was accepting the proposal as a "bona fide" sanctuary because of breeding programs, public displays, and use of the animals in the film industry.

Thorold City Planner Adele Arbour told council: "Although we appreciate the sincerity of the applicant and the family's commitment to the health and welfare of the animals, it is planning staff's opinion that the proposal seems to exhibit zoo-like characteristics."

Representatives from the World Society for the Protection of Animals and Zoocheck Canada both agreed the proposed sanctuary was, in essence, a zoo.

"The WSPA is very concerned that this proposed facility will not be a professional facility but a roadside zoo," said Melissa Tkachyk, programs officer for the Canadian branch of the WSPA. "I think if the applicants want to move forward with this endeavour they should at least change the name. Let's be clear, this is a zoo."

Rob Laidlaw, executive director of Zoocheck Canada, brought up the applicant's website in which photos of primates in diapers, and people playing with large cats grace the page.

"These photos do not depict what happens in a regular sanctuary," he said. "It says these animals are pets and this 'sanctuary' would be an extension of their pets."

He said the region does not need another roadside zoo attraction and urged council to accept the report and vote against the proposal.

Councillor Neale said a facility like this is needed in the region, but because the applicants did not follow the code, he couldn't support the proposal at the time.

Chris Morabito of TEARS acknowledged that the experience, while a "blow" to TEARS, was a learning one and that he and his family will try again, even if the sanctuary will be a private one. Story credit: Amanda Street. For the complete story, please go to:


TEARS, formerly known as Kris’ Reptiles (an exotic animal pet shop in St. Catharines), has previously displayed their animals at various public venues, including air shows and parades, to raise money for the sanctuary. It is now their intention to keep a number of large animals, such as lions, tigers and primates, and several reptile and bird species, at the Thorold location for public display and breeding purposes.

In a statement by TEARS, the facility would be open to the general public, tourists and special interest groups for a “donation” and the animals would be bred so “our great grandchildren can enjoy these animals and not just be seeing them in books.” TEARS also plans to provide animals for “TV commercials, movies and special promotions…a very lucrative market we are currently involved with.”

TEARS is not a real animal sanctuary

True animal sanctuaries are not open to the public, they do not engage in captive breeding programs and they don’t rent their animals out for film and television work.
The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada, for example, states on its website that “The DSC does not buy, sell or breed donkeys, mules or hinnies.”

At The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, elephants “are not required to perform or entertain for the public; instead, they are encouraged to live like elephants. As a true sanctuary, The Elephant Sanctuary is not intended to provide entertainment.”

The Elephant Sanctuary is closed to the public, relying on interactive video and multimedia computer technology, as well as wildlife documentary films and other outreach programs to educate children.

How You Can Help

Letters to the Mayor of Thorold and the Region are desperately needed. Aside from TEARS’ repeated disregard for rules and procedures, animal welfare and public safety issues must be considered. Some concerns you may want to address (keep it simple – only one or two points) include:

1) Close-up and “hands on” interactions with potentially dangerous animals jeopardizes public safety. Disease transmission is also a concern when humans come into contact with wild animals, especially primates, which can carry diseases fatal to humans. An animal escaping its enclosure also puts the community at risk (escapes are common at even the most established zoos).

2) Exhibits are often far too small to meet the animals’ physical and behavioural needs. Insufficient space can also be frustrating for animals that have adapted to living in large, open areas. Inappropriate social arrangements can also be detrimental to the animals’ mental well-being. Naturally social animals, like primates, are often kept isolated while solitary animals, such as tigers, are forced to live with others. .

3) Children today are learning about the importance of animals in their natural habitats and ecosystems. Seeing animals in cages does little to educate children about the animals’ natural lives, and undermines what they learn in the classroom.

4) Putting animals on display for human entertainment reinforces the belief that animals are here to serve our needs and desires. This ideology ignores the groundbreaking work of scientists like Dr. Jane Goodall, who recognize that animals are thinking, feeling individuals deserving of our respect and compassion.

5) Real sanctuaries do not keep their animals confined to cages, or breed and exploit animals for financial gain. True conservation efforts include preserving the species’ natural habitat and reintroducing animals to the wild. If there is no reintroduction program, then captive breeding only benefits the exotic pet trade industry.

6) There are over 60 animal facilities like TEARS in the province. It would not be to anyone's benefit, including the animals, to see this one go forward.

Please send your letters to:

Mayor Henry D’Angela
City of Thorold
3540 Schmon Parkway, P.O. Box 1044
Thorold, ON
L2V 4V7

Peter Colosimo
Senior Planner
Planning and Development Department
Regional Municipality of Niagara
2201 St. David’s Road, P.O. Box 1042
Thorold, ON
L2V 4T7

Ms. Adele Arbour
Director of Planning & Building Services
Planning and Building Services Department
City of Thorold
3540 Schmon Parkway, P.O. Box 1044
Thorold, ON
L2V 4V7