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Python That Allegedly Killed Boys Lacked Permit, Province Says

08/06/2013 03:55 EDT | Updated 10/06/2013 05:12 EDT
The deaths of two young boys attacked by a four-metre python while they slept is a reminder many Canadian communities need tougher rules restricting ownership of exotic animals, experts on animal welfare said Tuesday.

Ron Laidlaw, the executive director of Zoocheck Canada Inc., said there is currently a patchwork of laws across the country, with some communities allowing the large snakes in homes and pet shops and others prohibiting them unless the owners have a special permit.

"It's a huge mess, a huge mish mash of rules," said Laidlaw, who has been advocating for tougher regulations on exotic pets in Ontario for more than a decade.

In New Brunswick, where police have said the snake escaped through the roof of its glass enclosure and attacked the four-year-old and six-year-old brothers, the province requires a special permit for the African rock python and other large constrictors.

A statement from the province says the owner of the snake didn't have a permit and the Department of Natural Resources didn't know it was in the building.

Laidlaw says New Brunswick's rules are better than Ontario's, where ownership rules are left to municipal governments and there is no province-wide restrictions on owning the giant snakes.

Still, Laidlaw faults the New Brunswick government for allowing more reptiles to be sold in pet stores since regulations were changed in 2009. Under the change, pet stores were able to sell non-venomous snakes up to three metres in length.

"It was a huge mistake to look at relaxation of the rules. I think everybody should be moving towards more restrictive rules," he said.

Maintaining a wider ban on pythons in pet stores would reduce the traffic in snakes, said Laidlaw.

"Then 98 per cent of people would comply and if you see a python you just know they're banned," he said.

However, Bry Loyst, the curator of an accredited reptile facility in Indian River, Ont., said in an interview that the best model in Canada is in British Columbia, where recent legislation requires owners to meet standards for care and housing approved by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

He said this system encourages people to either meet standards set by accredited zoos, become an accredited zoo, or give dangerous animals to accredited facilities.

Loyst argues an outright ban would lead to people hiding animals.

"Create safe handling and safe protocols to make it safe for everyone and if you can't do that, then you have to get rid of them," he said. "Animals have been leaving British Columbia ever since they put that law in."

Louis McCann, the director of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, said it would be excessive to ban all pythons from pet shops as they often make safe pets.

Instead, McCann said his group has supported the banning of seven larger species, including the African rock python, in all but accredited zoos.

McCann said his group did provide the Campbellton shop's owner with a copy of the 2009 regulations — which prohibited ownership of the African python outside of an accredited facility.

Laidlaw says the death total from large constrictors across North America has been worrying and calls for more restrictions have been going on for decades.

The Humane Society of the United States has kept a record of 12 people who have died from large constrictor snake incidents since 1990, including one person who suffered a heart attack during a violent struggle with his python and a woman who died from an infection.

It reported that four babies died in their cribs and that three other children have been squeezed to death since 1978.

In 1992, a coroner's inquest jury called for the banning of deadly exotic animals in Ontario after reviewing the death of a 28-year-old man who was strangled by his Burmese python in a basement apartment.

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