Regulation could have prevented fatal tiger mauling: WSPA

The death of a southwestern Ontario man who was mauled by his pet tiger could have been prevented if the province had a licencing system that bans people from owning exotic animals, said the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

The death of a southwestern Ontario man who was mauled by his pet tiger could have been prevented if the province had a licencing system that bans people from owning exotic animals, said the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

Norman Buwalda, 66, was attacked and killed by the 295-kilogram tiger when he entered the animal's cage to feed it, Ontario Provincial Police Const. Troy Carlson said.

He kept the tiger on his property in Southwold, Ont., about 28 kilometres southwest of London. He was known to keep a number of other exotic animals there as well.

"It's high time that the government regulates the keeping of exotic animals," said Melissa Matlow, programs officer for WSPA, a Toronto-based animal welfare organization.

"They don't see it as necessary as far as I can tell," she said, when asked why she believes the government hasn't introduced such restrictions yet.

"It's quite a problem ... and it really isn't a surprise, considering that there's very little in place to protect these animals.

"You don't need a licence; you don't need a reason; you don't need any qualifications or training to keep a tiger or a lion or a monkey in your backyard so long as there's no municipal bylaw prohibiting the keeping of that species."

Other high-profile attacks by exotic pets in recent years:

  • On Feb. 16, 2009, a 90-kilogram chimpanzee escaped from a house and mauled a woman in Connecticut. Charla Nash, 55, suffered massive injuries to her face, brain and hands when attacked by Travis, a 14-year-old chimp described as normally docile.
  • On May 10, 2007, a pet Siberian tiger on a property near 100 Mile House, B.C., killed a woman who was outside its enclosure petting it. Tanya Dumstrey-Soos, 32, bled to death after the animal grabbed her leg and mauled her. The tiger was one of several owned by her boyfriend Kim Carlton.
  • On March 3, 2005, two chimpanzees chewed off most of a 62-year-old man's face and bit his wife at a California animal sanctuary. St. James and LaDonna Davis were visiting their former pet chimp Moe at the Animal Haven Ranch. The couple were standing outside his cage when two other chimps got out of an adjoining cage and attacked.
  • On Aug. 28, 1999, a three-year-old boy was killed by his family's 2.3-metre pet African rock python in Centralia, Ill. The boy had compression marks around his chest and bite marks on his neck and ears. He had been sleeping with an aunt and uncle near the snake's terrarium.

The government could have introduced regulations on exotic species when it revised its animal protection law last year, she said. 

Those changes gave the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals expanded powers to respond to complaints of animal cruelty.

"But [OSPCA workers] don't have the resources to proactively inspect these places to make sure that the animals are kept safely in the first place, and it's not adequate," Matlow said.

60% of Canadian zoos in Ontario

Ontario is the only province that doesn't require people to have a licence to keep dangerous exotic animals, according to WSPA. About 60 per cent of all Canadian zoos are in Ontario, and about 500 exotic cats are kept as pets in the province, the society says.

Matlow said Ontario could have followed the lead of British Columbia, which last year implemented new rules to ban dangerous pets that could harm the public. The move came after Tania Dumstrey-Soos, 32, was clawed by a Siberian tiger owned by her boyfriend and bled to death. The attack occurred in front of her children.

In Ontario since 1985, there have been about 50 reported incidents of exotic animals — including tigers, lions, jaguars, bobcats, bears and wolves — either escaping from zoos, sanctuaries, exhibits or private properties or attacking people, according to the society.

Sunday's attack is not the first one to occur on Buwalda's property. In June 2004, a 10-year-old boy was mauled by a Siberian tiger that was led out of its cage on a leash so the child could take its picture.

The boy suffered severe neck and head injuries. Buwalda, who was the chairman of the Canadian Exotic Animal Owner's Association, never faced charges because he was legally entitled to own the animals.

Neighbours in the rural community said they have spent nearly five years fighting to have the animals removed from the property, but all attempts failed.

Nicole Balogh was one of the many neighbours who went to the Southwold Township and helped get a bylaw passed to ban a person from owning exotic animals. But Buwalda fought the bylaw and won.

Southwold Mayor John McIntyre said he will try again to implement the bylaw.

"Well, I guess I think we were still right at the onset," he told CBC News on Monday.

"I feel as if it's my duty as mayor of the municipality to bring this thing back up again, and council will have some discussion on it ... and we'll take it from there."

Police are still investigating but said they are not sure what will happen with the animal.

An autopsy was to be performed on Buwulda Monday.

With files from The Canadian Press