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Up close with snakes and alligators 3:26

It still has some hurdles to clear, but Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo in Hamilton is on its way to bringing back some 30 banned animals it had to get rid of last year.

The city’s planning committee voted 4-3 on Tuesday to amend its responsible animal ownership bylaw to let Little Ray’s display large pythons and other banned animals at its Barton Street East indoor zoo.

It still needs council approval next Wednesday. And Little Ray’s still needs to be accredited by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA), which will likely happen in September.

Steve Featherstone, owner of Little Ray’s on 869 Barton St. E., said he’s pleased with Tuesday’s vote. Last year, he had to move around 10 arachnids, 11 crocodilians, eight snakes and one lizard from his Hamilton zoo to comply with the city bylaw.

“We’re happy with this, absolutely.”

The new bylaw amendments say that organizations that house exotic animals for educational purposes can be exempted, provided they meet conditions, such as:

  • Pet stores won’t be allowed to keep, let alone sell, exotic animals such as crocodiles and some types of pythons
  • Businesses that share a heating, cooling or ventilation system with a neighbouring tenant may not keep banned exotic animals
  • To qualify for the exemptions, a facility must be certified with CAZA, an industry-run organization that sets health and safety standards for commercial animal enclosures across the country
  • The facility not be attached to any residential structure, or share a heating and air conditioning unit with another facility.
  • That staff do annual inspections.

The meeting drew about seven speakers against allowing the exemption. While the vote only dealt with displaying animals, speakers expressed concern about images and video of Little Ray’s staff wrapping large snakes around children at parties, and letting dozens of people handle them.

Snakes also carry disease and can bite or constrict, even if they haven’t over hundreds of appearances, said Rob Laidlaw, executive director of Zoocheck Canada.

City bylaw staff is looking into "putting parameters" around temporary exhibits in areas such as schools and malls, said Marty Hazell, head of parking and bylaw.

The Little Ray's location opened last fall. Shortly after, it learned that it needed a bylaw amendment or exemption, and has been trying for it ever since.

Featherstone removed the animals late last year to comply with the bylaw.