Hamilton reptile zoo fighting to keep banned pythons

Little Ray's Reptile Zoo, which takes banned snakes and reptiles off the city’s hands, is making another pitch to keep the animals.
Steve Featherstone, owner of Little Ray's Reptile Zoo on Barton Street East, hopes the city will amend its responsible pet ownership bylaw to let him keep otherwise banned pythons and crocodiles. The centre is educational, he said, and takes banned reptiles off the city's hands. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

A Hamilton reptile zoo that takes banned snakes and reptiles off the city’s hands is making another pitch to keep the animals.

The owner of Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo will head to city hall this month to ask for an amendment to the responsible pet ownership bylaw. Steve Featherstone wants to keep banned animals such as crocodiles and large pythons at his Barton Street East centre.

Featherstone and Paul Goulet, founder of the Little Ray’s franchise, asked the city for an exemption in September. But councillors made no move to stop the enforcement effort against the zoo.

The city has given Little Ray’s until Dec. 7 to get rid of its illegal animals. But Featherstone hopes to persuade the city’s general issues committee to reconsider at the meeting Nov. 20.

“We just want them to know we’re more of a solution than a problem,” he said.

Featherstone looked into the legality of keeping the animals when he opened the zoo on June 8. But city staff, Goulet says, gave them conflicting advice on the process.

Many of the banned reptiles at Little Ray’s were once kept illegally by Hamiltonians, Featherstone said. Others came from a Hamilton pet store.

A Little Ray's staff member holds a python during an exhibit in Prince Edward Island.

These banned animals already exist in Hamilton, he said. At least they’re being properly handled at Little Ray’s.

“There are issues in the city whether I’m here and operational or not,” he said.

Featherstone has focused on inviting councillors to visit the zoo, which features permanent and traveling educational exhibits.

Coun. Scott Duvall of Ward 7 has visited and now plans to support Little Ray’s.

Seeing the site, he said, is “different from getting an email saying ‘They want to take my crocodiles away.’ This is nothing less than an education centre. It’s very well done.

“We actually send these reptiles to him that are actually forbidden. People get them as pets from somewhere else, they’re confiscated, and what do we do with them?”

Among the animals banned by the city's responsible pet ownership bylaw that Little Ray's has in its Barton Street East shop are:

  • A four-foot West African crocodile
  • An American alligator
  • A green anaconda
  • A reticulated python
  • A Burmese python

Councillors will vote on Featherstone's delegation request on Wednesday.

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