How do you move a 300-pound alligator and hordes of his scaly, cantankerous crocodile buddies?
Very carefully. And with a bunch of really big tubes.
That was the task facing owner Steve Featherstone and the rest of the staff at Little Ray's Reptile Zoo on Barton Street East on Monday, as they prepared to ship out a horde of animals that are banned under they city’s responsible pet ownership bylaw.
“Our crocodilians of the world display was supposed to be in Hamilton until April, so we’re moving the display a little earlier to conform with the city’s bylaws,” Featherstone said.
Most of the educational zoo’s large snakes, crocodilians and a few arachnids are being packed up and moved to the main Little Ray’s facility in Ottawa. One dwarf crocodile will remain in the zoo until May on a special exemption. Trainers lure the animals out of their enclosures and inside large plastic tubes, where they're sealed in, placed on a truck and shipped off to the nation's capital.
The move represents a long and drawn out back and forth with the city about which animals the zoo is able to keep in its enclosures, says Paul “Little Ray” Goulet, the founder of the Little Ray’s chain of reptile zoos.
“We’ve spent so much of our time working with councillors and animal control… it has been hard to focus on our business,” Goulet said. “I can’t tell you how much money I’ve spent going back and forth to Hamilton.”
Little Ray’s investigated the zoo’s legality before it opened earlier this year, Goulet says. Though they planned to carry animals that were banned under they city’s responsible pet ownership bylaw, city staff said the company didn’t need an exemption, Goulet says.
“The bylaw was written to control people, not for educational organizations like ours,” he said. Many of Little Ray’s banned reptiles were once kept illegally in local homes, while others came from a Hamilton pet store.
In the end, councillors made no move to stop the enforcement effort against the zoo, and city staff ordered Little Ray's to remove any animals classified as banned under the bylaw.
But both Goulet and Featherstone want to make it totally clear that Little Ray’s isn’t closing — in fact, they’re bringing in a whole set of new, rarely seen animals to Hamilton. Little Ray’s new exhibit of endangered species includes a Cayman blue rock iguana, Cuban boa snakes and other animals that are almost never seen in Canada.
“These are some of the rarest of the rare. Even some of the other reptile specialty zoos and small zoos — even big zoos like Toronto zoo, doesn’t have the same species that we’re setting up,” Featherstone said.