City exploring future of prohibited animals for teaching purposes
Public consultations are being held to decide whether animals like snakes or pigs should be allowed at birthday parties or elementary schools.

The City of Toronto is asking the public to help decide how animals on its prohibited list might be used for educational purposes.

The public consultation, which included a meeting at city hall Friday and another taking place Monday at Metro Hall, could shape whether animals barred from being kept in homes, such as snakes or pigs, are allowed at birthday parties, parades or school programs.

It also seeks the public’s input on whether any creatures should be added or removed from the city’s prohibited list.

“We’re looking at the potential exclusion or loss of valuable education tools,” said Andre Ngo, the education director of Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo.

A bylaw currently allows for exemptions to the city’s prohibited animals list — when used for educational purposes —for organizations recognized by Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums. But city council, which has asked city staff to review the issue, has directed that provision be deleted effective Canada Day.

Julie Woodyear, campaigns director for watchdog group Zoocheck, said this is a chance to stop people from bringing animals where they don’t belong.

“By exhibiting animals in unnatural settings, you’re actually creating a mis-education, a negative education, for the children that it’s OK to have birds in the setting that they can’t fly, for instance. Or it’s OK to handle these snakes or these turtles, or this skunk even,” she said.

Woodyear recalled her son picking up a rattlesnake at the family cottage in Georgian Bay after seeing a show at his school in which a trained handler did the same. She said evidence suggests these types of shows don’t create the positive education they claim.

“No matter how great the organization’s message is, bringing out the animals distracts from that message because what the kids come away with... is the idea that ‘well if they handled them and they’re the experts, then it clearly can’t be damaging to the animal to handle it,’” she said.

“That’s concerning on several levels, certainly from an animal welfare perspective, for the animals involved.”

But Ngo cautioned that not all situations in which animals could be handled are equal in terms of educational value. A university setting is far different than a birthday party, for instance.

“There’s questions of conflating the worst with the best,” he said. “It’s not just wholesale animal exploitation.”

Delivis Niedzialek, outreach director for Little Ray’s, said he’s concerned entertainers will be able to go wild as opportunities for learning are eliminated.

“If you’re going to ban anything, it should be entertainment with animals, not the people who are making a genuine effort to do educational programs with animals,” said Niedzialek.

“I don’t want this to be a situation by the end of the year where a qualified zoologist who knows how to handle an animal safely can’t go into the classroom to teach about it. But you can bring a lion out to a fair and have no education value.”

The public consultation, which also seeks the input of animal welfare groups and business owners, will be used to form recommendations for the Licensing and Standards Committee in June, the city’s animal services director Elizabeth Glibbery said.

“Our purpose here is to protect Torontonians, to protect our children, to protect our residents, to protect our communities and to protect the animals,” she said.