Woman shocked when she sees a lion while walking her dog in Ontario
A woman who visited Ontario last week said she was walking her dog at night when she came face-to-face with a lion through a chain-link fence — an encounter animal advocates pin on the lack of exotic animal legislation governing roadside zoos in the province.
At first, Quebec woman Patricia Lapetite thought she saw a big dog in a fenced-in yard, but as she strolled by with her speckled dog in the dark, she started to see the animal more clearly.
A lion behind a fence at Jungle Cat World in Clarington, Ont. as seen in a video posted to social media on March 8 (Patlapetite). “I saw the lion in a yard about 30 feet from the road,” she told CTV News Toronto.
Her dog Abby began barking as the two animals bolted parallel to one another, separated by a snowbank and a fence, as seen in a video Lapetite posted on social media on March 8.
Lapetite later learned she had stumbled upon Jungle Cat World, what animal rights experts call a roadside zoo, located in Clarington, Ont., about 100 km east of downtown Toronto.
Lions, tigers, jaguars, hyenas and leopards live at the wildlife centre, which has been open since 1983, according to its website. The park also offers a safari getaway where visitors can “fall asleep to the roar of the lions and howling of the wolves” at an on-site bed-and-breakfast.
The lion’s enclosure is perched next to Concession Road across the street from a gas station and local restaurant, and down the road from residential houses. CTV News Toronto visited the area on Monday and could see the lion in its enclosure from the road.
Lapetite’s video, which now has 3,000 shares on Facebook and more than 5,000 likes on TikTok, has sparked a lively conversation circling the question – why is a lion living along a public road, within walking distance from local businesses and residential households?
A Google map view of Jungle Cat World's location in Clarington, Ont.“Is that even legal? I never knew (you) could possess any type of exotic animal like that … with all the houses around it,” one person commented on Facebook. “I know I wouldn’t wanna be living in that area.”
Another person posted, “Not sure, but I think the fence is not really useful. It's still a feline that jumps very well.”
On Monday, Animal Welfare Services said they inspected Jungle Cat World in response to a complaint regarding the lion. Solicitor general spokesperson Brent Ross told CTV News Toronto at the time of inspection, all the lions were in their enclosures and there was “no threat to public safety.”
But from the point of view of Michèle Hamers, World Animal Protection’s wildlife campaign manager, the lion’s enclosure is “completely inadequate.”
“Lions can jump as high as 12 feet, which is why professional zoo standards recommend keeping lions behind fences at least 15 feet high,” she told CTV News Toronto.
Beyond height, Hamers said the fence should have an overhang at the top to prevent the animal from climbing out.
Jungle Cat World did not respond to CTV News Toronto’s repeated requests for comment on the Quebec woman’s encounter and the lion enclosure.
This is the second time in three years that World Animal Protection has raised concerns about Jungle Cat World.
In 2019, the wildlife park made headlines for offering close-up photo opportunities with tiger cubs, wolves and other wild animals. Less than a decade earlier, a two-year-old wolf named Shadow escaped from a double-fenced enclosure at Jungle Cat World and was fatally shot by a local resident.
In a complaint report, penned by World Animal Protection and submitted to Provincial Animal Welfare Services in September, the group claimed the facility was not in adherence with numerous provisions in the Ontario Regulation 444/19 Standards of Care and Administrative Requirements.
One of the issues flagged by the group was the alleged “poor design and construction of enclosures," which could lead to escapes and inappropriate interaction with people, according to the complaint.
“It’s a very strong reminder of how broken Ontario’s animal legislation is,” Hamers said in reference to the situation with the lion.
Ontario is the last jurisdiction in Canada that has not regulated the ownership of exotic animals. Instead, each municipality is responsible for outlining their own rules.
“We are calling on the government of Ontario to get serious about taking control of this issue instead of downloading the responsibility onto municipalities and for the proper authorities to investigate this thoroughly,” Hamers said.
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