Hamilton reptile zoo asks to keep banned pythons

The head of Little Ray's Reptile Zoo is hoping the city will grant him an exemption for keeping banned snakes and crocodiles in Hamilton's east end.

No snake on site like the one that killed New Brunswick boys, chain owner says

Steve Featherstone, owner of Little Ray's Reptile Zoo on Barton Street East, holds a reticulated python. Little Ray's is asking for a bylaw exemption from the city so it can keep a host of reptiles. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The head of Little Ray's Reptile Zoo is hoping the city will grant him an exemption for keeping banned snakes and crocodiles in Hamilton's east end.

But considering it's only been a few weeks since two New Brunswick boys were strangled in their sleep by a python that escaped an exotic pet store, he knows it could be an uphill battle.

"I think at this point in time we have to expect a little pushback on this," said Paul "Little Ray" Goulet, who owns the Little Ray's Reptile Zoo chain. "I think everyone is going to be doing their due diligence, and I certainly don't think that's a bad thing."

"It's a terrible tragedy that will lead to tighter regulations."

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-long West African crocodile
  • An American alligator
  • A green anaconda
  • A reticulated python
  • And a Burmese python

Some of those snakes can grow to be 14 to 18 feet long, Goulet says, but the zoo doesn't have an African rock python like the one that escaped in New Brunswick. There also aren't poisonous snakes on site, Goulet added.

He says no snakes could escape from the Hamilton zoo. "We have procedures in place that do not allow something like that to happen."

Councillors wary

But in light of the deaths of Noah and Connor Barthe, the city's planning committee will need to take the request into careful consideration, says chair Jason Farr.

"I think everybody when that story broke on the east coast thought 'well, how does a snake get through a cage and then through a vent and how did that unfortunate thing unfold?'" the Ward 2 councillor said.

Farr says the city will need to take a closer look at what precautions exist to protect the public. "We would never want to come close to even contemplating the potential of such a tragedy as we saw there."

Ward 10 councillor Maria Pearson told CBC Hamilton she worries about an exemption opening doors to other businesses.

"We have a very strict bylaw and it took us a long time to get there, and he's not the only one in the city," she said. "So if we don't address it, we're going to be opening doors for others."

Bylaw violation can cost $25,000

Little Ray's is based out of Ottawa, and has been open since 1995. The Hamilton location opened in early June. Goulet says he believed after going before the city's planning committee before they opened was that having these reptiles would be fine. But after the fact, he says, the city's animal control office told them they'd need to apply for an exemption to the bylaw.

The current animal control bylaw was approved last year. Violating the bylaw can mean a maximum fine of $10,000 on first offense, and $25,000 for a second violation.

Little Ray's specializes in summer camps and travelling reptile shows. "We're a zoo, not a pet store," Goulet said.

He says their standards are compliant with all major zoos. The Hamilton location isn't yet accredited by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, but they plan to apply in the fall and hope to be accredited by 2015, Goulet says.

The Hamilton shop also acts as a reptile rescue. "Almost every animal in the place used to be someone's pet," he said.

Little Ray's has a delegation request coming up at Tuesday's planning committee meeting at city hall. If that request is granted, Goulet will likely appear before council to make his case sometime in September.


Adam Carter


Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

With files from Julia Chapman