British Columbia

B.C. exotic pet law too strict: owner

Owners of exotic animals in B.C. are scrambling to meet an April 1 change in provincial law that puts strict limits on owning, exhibiting and breeding the pets they already own.

Owners of exotic animals in B.C. are scrambling to meet an April 1 change in provincial law that puts strict limits on owning, exhibiting and breeding the pets they already own and prohibits any future importation of the animals into B.C.

Animals covered in the new law include big cats, poisonous snakes, large reptiles and primates such as monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees and lemurs, as well as many other species defined simply as "alien" or "not native to B.C."

The change was the government's response to the death of a woman in the community of 100 Mile House who was killed by a pet tiger in 2007. 

At least one reptile owner said he thinks the new law goes too far.

"I do agree there should be some sort of process to limit who actually can have these animals," said Mike Hopcraft of Abbotsford. "But to all-out ban them — I don't agree with that, I really don't."

Hopcraft calls himself "The Reptile Guy," and rescues exotic reptiles which he then keeps in his home.

The new law is unfair to many responsible owners, he said, and he worries it will create a bigger black market for exotic animals.

"They can put the new laws on it all they want. It's going to go underground.  It happens with guns, it happens with drugs, it happens with everything."

B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner — citing the 100 Mile House incident — said the law is about public safety.

"A young woman and a mother lost her life because somebody decided it was a cool thing to do to have one of these large tigers."

SPCA supports change

Owners must apply for permits in order to keep their exotic animals and if they want to transport them to exhibit them, owners must get accreditation from the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

"I take them to schools. I take them to birthday parties and with the new laws as of April 1, I cannot do that with these restricted animals," said Hopcraft.

The new law has the support of the province's major animal protection group.

"The list is published online on the Ministry of Environment's website," said Sara Dubois, the B.C. SPCA's manager of wildlife services.

"And in fact, a lot of the really small reptiles and the average house pet are not controlled. We're looking at the venomous, the poisonous, the big, dangerous animals."

The new law carries penalties of up to $100,000 in fines and one year in jail for first offenders.

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