Before Reptilia can show exotic reptiles in London, here’s what city staff say the zoo must do

Two hurdles stand in the way of Reptilia exhibiting exotic species according to a new report to London City Council.

The reptile zoo is completing construction of a 30,000 sq.ft. facility inside Westmount Mall and has sought an exemption to the municipality’s Animal Control By-law that prohibits the display of exotic animals.

Responding to council direction late last year, the director of municipal compliance outlines two required changes to municipal by-laws that council would have to consider, including “an amendment to the Animal Control By-law specific to the Westmount Mall location and an amendment to the Business Licensing By-law introducing a new business category: exotic animal establishment.”

“I have concerns,” explained Marie Blosh, an animal welfare advocate. “It’s trying to put some conditions on [Reptilia] but I don’t think there’s enough conditions. I think it’s way too broad.”

Blosh points out that by exempting all class seven exotic species listed in the Animal Control By-law would permit a much wider range of dangerous exotic animals on the mall’s property than Reptilia is seeking.

“Way beyond reptiles, it includes lions, tigers, elephants, kangaroos,” Blosh said.

Staff recommend that a new category of business license for exotic animal establishments should require:

  • Animal inventory record
  • Veterinary health certificate for each exotic animal certifying health and absence of zoonotic diseases
  • Animal accommodation plan
  • Transportation plan
  • Emergency management and public safety plan
  • Commercial general liability and indemnification from legal claims the city may incur

Coun. Susan Stevenson has been a vocal supporter of Reptilia during recent council debates.

She points out that Reptilia’s animals are rescues and captive-bred from other zoos.

The long list of potential requirements for a business license worries Stevenson that it would put too much responsibility on the municipality.

“Animal welfare is provincial [jurisdiction], and I don’t think we want to get involved with that at all,” Stevenson told CTV News London. “The inspection and the monitoring is all up to the province, even [responding to] complaints.”

However, Blosh said the Provincial Animal Welfare Service (PAWS) isn’t sufficiently staffed to provide oversight.

“They are spread very thin. They don’t do regular inspections, so again, it’s about animal welfare concerns and also public safety,” she said.

Another proposed requirement for the business license would be accreditation by one of two organizations— Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) or the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)

However, Reptilia is currently seeking accreditation from a different professional organization called the Zoological Association of America (ZAA).

Blosh questions the value of accreditation.

“What it does not do is take account of public safety,” she said. “It is also very limited in what it can do for the animals. It can’t take an animal out of a bad situation. It doesn’t have any enforcement.”

Reptilia previously appeared at city hall in 2018, last April, and most recently in November.

The staff report recommends holding a future public participation meeting (PPM) prior to council making a final decision.

The next scheduled meeting of the Community and Protective Services (CAPS) Committee is Feb. 22.

“If 50 per cent of the people in London never go to Reptilia, that’s fine. There are another 50 per cent who would like to,” Stevenson said about having another public meeting.

“Hearing peoples opposition and learning if there is something we can do to make it better, but other than that, opposition is going to come with innovative change,” she added.

The CAPS Committee will consider the staff report at a meeting on Tuesday.