After a one-armed baboon escaped from a home and bit a resident, the town of Latchford is making efforts to implement regulations for exotic animals both locally and provincially.
Mayor Sharon Gadoury-East said the monkey, Mark, escaped from a local residence last month for roughly an hour, crossed Highway 11 and bit a woman in her 40s. The victim sought medical attention and was observed for 14 days by healthcare professionals. The experience has prompted Kirkland Lake to take a look at its own exotic animal bylaw.
“(The baboon) actually lived in a private home, so it escaped from there. Eventually, the owner was calling it and was able to finally get it back in the house,” Gadoury-East said.
“The doctors weren't sure what would happen, so they had to make sure that the resident was looked after and monitored. Unfortunately, now, because of this bite, she can no longer donate blood or organs.”
While Ontario has a law to prevent wild animals that are native to the province from being kept in captivity, Gadoury-East said there is no exotic animal legislation. As a result, it's up to individual municipalities to create bylaws. The Town of Latchford has one, but it wasn’t specific enough for police to get involved when Mark escaped.
“The police could do nothing because there's no provincial or federal bylaw out there. So, unless the municipality puts in their own bylaw there’s nothing they can do, but then we’d also have to police this bylaw,” she said.
Gadoury-East said the municipality’s bylaw wasn't clear enough for the police to step in as it didn’t specify a bite from an exotic animal, it only mentioned a dog or cat.
“We’ve since had to rewrite our bylaw to include exotic animals,” she said.
The baboon's owner has had exotic animals in their home for years.
“They, at one time, had a sanctuary, well, they had a little animal thing that they did here, so this baboon’s been around for a while,” she said.
“But that was the problem, we wrote a bylaw that when these animals were gone, they were gone, but, unfortunately, because we were not getting a list of what they had, I’m being told there's new animals in there. So, it's kind of a catch-22.”
Following the incident, Gadoury-East attended a Timiskaming Municipal Association (TMA) meeting — a committee of over 20 municipalities that gets together monthly to discuss one item of interest from each region — on Nov. 30 in Earlton, where she brought to light the topic of exotic animals.
“I wanted to bring it up because I want them to help me fight. Whether we go after the federal or provincial government, we've got to get a bylaw in place. This is crazy. You know, it's happened to me, so, you never know it, could happen anywhere,” she said.
Everyone was shocked by Gadoury-East’s experience, she said.
“I did have some people come and talk to me afterwards and said they would have never, ever (have) thought of something like this happening,” she said. “But it was also a big eye opener for them to realize that there's no bylaws, you've got to make your own, but you also have to pay to police it.”
Kirkland Lake mayor Stacy Wight said the situation made her take a look at their own town’s bylaw.
“Something like this, you don't realize it's an issue until you see it be an issue. It made me look at our bylaw and ask the question, what if something like this was to happen in our community and how would we deal with it,” she said.
“Our local bylaw actually has animals such as baboons, lions, tigers, bears, alligators, elephants… those are all prohibited animals. You're not to have these animals within the community. But what if you do, and that was my question.”
Another concern both Gadoury-East and Wight noted is where an exotic animal goes if one is discovered in a local residence.
“Up here in Northern Ontario, if those animals had to be taken away, they have no place that they could be housed,” Gadoury-East said. “I even got a hold of animal control and they told me that they have no place to house it, they couldn't take a monkey in if they tried.”
Wight said she searched a report about animal sanctuaries following the TMA meeting.
“If we find a baboon or other kinds of prohibited animals, then what? Where do these animals go to be taken care of if it's John Doe in your municipality with a bear in his basement? Where do you put them once you find them, or do you even collect them, like, what is the process once this happens,” she said.
“So, I have brought it to my CAO, saying listen, you know, just down the highway, they've had this issue, what would happen if Kirkland Lake was to have this issue? Staff will be bringing a report in the future in my municipality of how this is going to be dealt with.”
Gadoury-East said her goal is to prohibit residents in her community along with communities across the province from owning and housing exotic animals.
“I think this is crazy. I'm sure I'm not the only place that has exotic animals showing up, and municipalities that are small like us — we’re a little over 300 people —how do they figure we can police this stuff? Like, you know, that's a lot of money that we could be putting out,” she said. “If you keep it quiet, it's going nowhere, and nothing's getting done.”