By Jenny Yuen
Monkeys and snakes make lousy Christmas presents.
With Darwin “the Ikea monkey” now celebrating two years at a Sunderland animal sanctuary — located about 100 kilometres northeast of Toronto — it serves as a reminder about the dangers of the exotic pet trade, animal welfare workers say.
“I believe that most people would understand that a monkey is not allowed in Toronto,” said Mary Lou Leiher, a program manager for Toronto Animal Services. “Most people would get that it’s illegal to get a venomous snake. In those cases, there would be an awareness, but they’re just doing it anyway. Some people might have a pet they aren’t aware that’s on the prohibited animal list, like a chicken.”
Chapter 349 of Toronto’s municipal code and identifies a number of prohibited species, including cattle, tigers, leopards, horses, skunks, bears, ducks and alligators and venomous animals.
Anyone caught with such an animal can be fined $255 or “if we were to summon someone to court, the maximum fine would be $5,000 (in rare cases),” said Leiher said, adding the city has no jurisdiction over the sale of exotic pets.
Daina Liepa, a volunteer at Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary — where Darwin now resides — said about 90% of their monkeys come from the exotic pet industry.
“You can buy a tiger in Toronto if you wanted to,” she said. “There are auctions that are held from time to time. It depends on the jurisdiction — but in terms of buying and selling, it’s not illegal. It’s scary. The laws need to be changed and people need to be made more aware of it.”
In July, an 80-centimetre caiman was rescued from a pond in High Park, assumed to be a former pet that was abandoned after it grew too large or difficult for its owner to care for.
“We did have an incident where an Egyptian cobra escaped in a rooming house back in 2006 in the Weston area,” explained Leiher. “The whole house had to be evacuated, it went on for months because we couldn’t find the snake and that was a big drain on the city’s resources and created safety issues for people living there when the snake got loose.”
The Toronto Humane Society receives some animals that fall into the exotic pet category from time to time.
“We’ve had a snake, an iguana, a couple of bearded dragons, a hedgehog, some chinchillas — depending on what you call an exotic animal, yes, we have our share,” said THS spokesman Makyla Deleo. “Some come in as strays and others come from other shelters that don’t have the ability to care for more exotic species.”
Louis McCann, the president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada (PIJAC) — which advocates on behalf of the Canadian pet industry — said he was recently approached by Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi for recommendations on how to move forward with exotic pets in the beginning of 2015.
Leiher said she wants to remind people looking for family pets to make sure the animals they’re considering taking into their homes are domesticated.
“There’s actually quite a large underground trade of exotic animals,” she said. “These are wild animals. They need to be in their natural environment ... You are not able to meet that animal’s needs no matter how well you think you’re taking care of it.” Photos and video.