They fought a zoo — Ontario towns grapple with exotic-animal owner

Roy Mitchell remembers the instant he learned his rural Ontario neighborhood had acquired a brand new resident. 

A hearsay used to be spreading in the course of the tiny town of Maynooth within the fall of 2020. Someone had just purchased out all the chicken on the native No Frills, considered one of the world’s only prime grocery shops.

Mitchell recalled hearing that the person mentioned, “Those are for my kitties.” 

but the “kitties” he was once referring to were not area cats.

“He introduced his tiger to the parking zone, or a lion or something,” Mitchell mentioned. “and those were telling me, ‘Did you pay attention concerning the guy … he is going to begin a zoo.’ ” 

Mitchell, an artist who had moved from Toronto a few years in advance, was once gobsmacked. “It used to be like … what? are you able to get started a zoo?”

the person was Mark Drysdale, an unique animal proprietor who had not too long ago bought land in Maynooth, situated within the municipality of Hastings Highlands about 265 kilometres northeast of Toronto. 

He desired to open a roadside zoo with his choice of animals, including 10 massive cats: eight lions and tigers. He additionally had lemurs.

Mitchell immediately feared the worst: “Lion break out. Tiger get away. Lemur, not so dangerous. i would not care a few lemur, however perhaps they’re dangerous, i’ve no idea.” 

Drysdale’s plan for Highland Big Cat Adventures can be his 3rd such endeavour in not up to a decade. it would additionally ignite the latest in a sequence of bitter battles with Ontario municipalities over exotic animal bylaws.

A catch 22 situation for municipalities

Drysdale’s efforts have exposed a significant quandary for municipal officers: how you can stay anxious citizens secure whilst navigating an individual’s proper to keep wild animals.  

Ontario has no regulations governing who can own exotic animals. Instead, it’s as much as municipalities to enact bylaws to prohibit explicit species.

Animal rights advocates say this has ended in a patchwork of regulations that can regularly fail to give protection to animals in opposition to mistreatment.

to start with, none of the towns Drysdale moved to had a bylaw. But on the behest of concerned citizens, one after every other, the groups enacted bans on unique animals. 

“it’s been hell,” Drysdale mentioned. “It begins with townships, after which there is a staff that call themselves Zoocheck.”

Drysdale reserves different animosity for Zoocheck, which he accuses of stirring up fear in every of the municipalities the place he’s lived.

Julie Woodyer, campaigns director for Zoocheck Canada, said the organization’s objective is to protect wild animals and has been following the controversies around Drysdale’s amenities for years.

He first came to the gang’s attention in 2014 whilst he and his first wife, Joni Cook, were running Ringtail Ranch and Rescue, a zoo in Wainfleet, Ont., in the Niagara area. 

Among 2013 and 2018, Wainfleet officials documented 17 instances of biting and scratching on the zoo. 

The Niagara Area Public Well Being studies, bought by Zoocheck Canada by way of get entry to to knowledge requests, referenced a spread of animals, including a donkey, a sort of South American raccoon, a lynx and marmosets. in a single instance, a neighborhood baby-kisser was once ambushed by way of a lemur named Lawson. On every other instance, Drysdale was once bitten on both forearms by way of his lion.

Wainfleet enacted an exotic animal bylaw in 2018. That was once the similar yr that Ringtail used to be close down after being declared a health danger. 

Soon after, Drysdale moved to Grand Bend, Ont., a vacationer town at the southeastern beaches of Lake Huron.

it might transform the positioning of in all probability his mightiest combat. 

Tammy Nyyssonen pets Tamara, her namesake tiger, on this undated picture taken at Roaring Cat Retreat, a facility in Grand Bend, Ont., that she once operated with Drysdale, her then husband. (Tammy Drysdale/Fb)

From Beethoven to important cats 

Growing up in Brampton, Ont., Drysdale used to be the child who all the time brought house strays. 

“It was once almost definitely the neighbour’s cat, but I introduced it house anyway, pretending it was once a stray,” he stated, adding he is at all times been more well-off round animals than other people.  

within the ’90s, he and Joni began taking in undesirable St. Bernards while gross sales of the breed spiked following the release of Beethoven, a comedy starring the similar more or less canine.

Drysdale said as soon as people heard they took in rescues, he began getting calls about unwanted exotic animals, and their assortment grew. 

“you have got individuals who buy monkeys. you were given people who buy lemurs. you got people who smuggle one thing across the border. you’ve got X animal they usually are not looking for it anymore.”

It used to be in Wainfleet that Drysdale began obtaining big cats.

On-Line, there are pictures and movies galore of Drysdale and his animals — one video shows him enjoying fetch with a lion named Savannah behind his Wainfleet property.

WATCH | Mark Drysdale and Savannah the lion in Wainfleet: 

“So, that may be a cat that may be absolutely free,” Drysdale advised CBC, noting he could be “crucified” for admitting that is how he walked his lions on his assets. 

However he said the cats stay by his facet as a result of “the arena past their cage and past me is an international they do not need to learn about.”

Drysdale insists his animals are bonded to him and that his lions were never a risk to the public. 

“on this world, we have tens, if not loads of lots of canine assaults each year. how many lion attacks do of?”

Drysdale would possibly not had been considering lion attacks, nevertheless it quickly turned into transparent his neighbours were.

They fought a zoo — Ontario towns grapple with exotic-animal owner

a sign attached to a tree out of doors Drysdale’s Grand Bend house in April 2020 advertises the previous Pineridge Zoo, which used to be positioned on the same belongings. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

New life for an antique zoo

Thru social media scuttlebutt in spring of 2019, Colin Butler realized that someone was once trying to revitalize the vintage Pineridge Zoo in Grand Bend. 

The CBC reporter in London, Ont., used to be right away intrigued for the reason that former zoo used to be identified for animal escapes.

“Other People waking up in the morning and finding a warthog of their backyard or something like that, proper? So, I Thought, ‘Oh my God, this factor’s coming again.’ So, i started looking into it,” Butler recalled. 

He discovered that it was once Drysdale who wanted to open a zoo known as Roaring Cat Retreat on the grounds of the antique facility, and that his Wainfleet operation have been shut down by means of well being government.

Butler mentioned Drysdale instructed him Roaring Cat Retreat was “going to have those large, big fences, and the whole thing was going to be protected.”

While Butler approached the town’s mayor for comment, he wasn’t conscious about Drysdale’s plans. “And it didn’t sound like he was pleased with the idea, both.”

Butler’s protection of the plan result in a sequence of public meetings in Lambton Shorelines, the municipality where Grand Bend is located.   

Drysdale said they weren’t made conscious about the ones meetings.

Inside Of days of publication of Butler’s article, the municipality of Lambton Seashores handed an exotic animal bylaw. 

The transfer infuriated Drysdale, who said he didn’t get a chance to provide his enter and used to be offended town might “simply pass a bylaw that may be going to … make the tens of hundreds of greenbacks worth of labor that we put into that assets inappropriate.”

Grand Bend large cat house owners vow to stay and struggle a town hall that is handled them ‘like garbage’

But as a result of he had animals on his land prior to the bylaw used to be handed, Drysdale insisted it didn’t pertain to him and vowed to fight it in courtroom.  

Quickly, his Grand Bend operation used to be accepting guests, setting the degree for a lawsuit filed via the municipality. In The End, Drysdale could be compelled to transport again.

They fought a zoo — Ontario towns grapple with exotic-animal owner

3 lions peer via their enclosure even as perched on an elevated platform at Drysdale’s Grand Bend assets in April 2020. Drysdale insisted an unique animal bylaw passed by the Municipality of Lambton Shores at that time didn’t pertain to him because the animals were on his land before it used to be enacted. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Court injunction ends roaring

considered one of essentially the most not unusual court cases levelled at Roaring Cat Retreat used to be, well, the roaring. 

“Are we actually at that time in society the place a lion roaring could be thought to be a noise criticism over kids screaming?” Drysdale lamented. 

“Other People pay tens of heaps of greenbacks to go to Africa and in reality see a pride of lions roar.”

Every Other grievance arose after two lion cubs were noticed wandering in a residential house. Drysdale stated a girl who complained overreacted.

a couple of lion cubs escaped from Roaring Cat Retreat in Grand Bend

“Sadly, a few lady was once getting mail, and it was a large factor. you know, it isn’t, ‘Baby lions are out.’ Oh, no, it’s ‘Lions are out.’ big difference between a baby lion and a lion.” He claimed the lock on their enclosure had been minimize.

Ultimately, an Ontario court docket judge made up our minds in late 2019 that even as the property used to be a zoo, Lambton Shores had rezoned it years in advance. 

The municipality was once granted an everlasting injunction in opposition to Roaring Cat Retreat, which meant the animals had to be far from the valuables. 

By June 2020, the roaring in Grand Bend had stopped.

They fought a zoo — Ontario towns grapple with exotic-animal owner

A sold signal is noticed outdoor the Grand Bend home of Mark and Tammy Drysdale in November 2020. The couple moved from Grand Bend to Maynooth, Ont., about 265 kilometres north of Toronto. (Colin Butler/CBC Information)

Another transfer, a foyer starts    

Prior To Drysdale and his second spouse, Tammy Nyyssonen, arrived in Maynooth in late 2020, they referred to as to invite the mayor if an unique animal bylaw existed in Hastings Highlands. 

They have been instructed it did not. Drysdale recorded the decision and published it to social media.

Their zoo dreams spurned, Grand Bend’s big cat couple set their sights on a new town

“you realize what our former mayor will need to have performed?” requested Mitchell, the Toronto transplant to Maynooth. “He must have googled Drysdale.” 

Mitchell was astounded that there were no laws fighting homeowners of enormous, unique animals shifting “from municipality to municipality to municipality.”

He briefly arranged a gaggle to lobby Hastings Highlands to cross an exotic animal bylaw, but it may take months to realize any traction. 

They fought a zoo — Ontario towns grapple with exotic-animal owner

Roy Mitchell of Maynooth, Ont., started the crowd Electorate for a safe and Humane Hastings Highlands to foyer for an exotic animal bylaw within the municipality after finding out of Drysdale’s plans to open a zoo there. (Ken Fraser)

Tragedy moves 

In July 2021, Ontario Provincial Police visited Drysdale’s Maynooth assets on the request of Hastings-Prince Edward Public Well Being Unit to check on the animals as a question of public protection. 

according to officers’ notes, got via CBC via access to knowledge requests, the lions on the property “killed the tiger and ate it” for the reason that animals had been “in a position to dig a hole under the fence to get among enclosures.” 

Officials noted there wasn’t sufficient food or water for the large cats and that fruit loops have been left for the lemurs. 

A provincial animal welfare officer inspected the following day, and Drysdale and Nyyssonen have been subsequently charged with one depend each and every of allowing misery and 4 counts each and every of failing to conform with the factors of care laid out in the Provincial Animal Welfare Services And Products Act, known as PAWS. 

A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General stated the four lions that killed the tiger have been “relocated voluntarily via the owners” who had been allowed to transport them to an unknown region.

Inside Of weeks of the charges, the city council voted unanimously to move the unique animal bylaw, and Mitchell’s team, Voters for a safe and Humane Hastings Highlands, declared victory. 

They fought a zoo — Ontario towns grapple with exotic-animal owner

Drysdale, right, and his former spouse, Tammy Nyyssonen, are pictured on their Grand Bend belongings in April 2020. An animal welfare officer inspected their Maynooth assets in July the next yr and the 2 were later charged underneath the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

For his phase, Drysdale acknowledged his tiger were killed by means of lions however was once adamant it hadn’t been eaten.

He rejected police claims that lions had dug between the enclosures. As A Substitute, he stated, the tiger were left in a common house and controlled to get in with the lions. 

Government allowed Ontario couple to ‘voluntarily relocate’ FOUR lions that killed and ate tiger

He also said he was once in prison whilst the tragedy came about. 

Drysdale said he and Nyssonnen were driving once they had what he referred to as “an issue,” and that he then led police on a automotive chase.

He was later charged with unhealthy operation of a vehicle and attack, pleaded to blame and was once convicted. 

Even Though he stated he took duty for what happened to his tiger, Drysdale additionally blamed police and described begging officials to take him house so he could transfer the tiger to a secure enclosure.

“It was once like shedding a kid,” Drysdale stated of the tiger’s death. 

They fought a zoo — Ontario towns grapple with exotic-animal owner

A lion suns itself in an enclosure at the Grand Bend belongings in April 2020. In July the following year, police visited Drysdale’s Maynooth belongings and confirmed that lions had killed one among the tigers. (Colin Butler/CBC Information)

A federal invoice profits toughen 

Zoocheck’s Woodyer is pissed off with the province, which she said has been “promising for years” to herald captive natural world laws, and that not anything has been done to this point.

“So necessarily, Ontario is just like the Wild West when it comes to captive wildlife.”

They fought a zoo — Ontario towns grapple with exotic-animal owner

Julie Woodyer, campaigns director for Zoocheck Canada, stated her organization has been following controversies at Drysdale’s facilities for years. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

Tom Deline, mayor of Centre Hastings, stated his municipality not too long ago up to date an animal control bylaw that used to be introduced in 2001 when a person who owned a cougar moved to the realm. 

In small communities, Deline stated, “folks can get very afraid” while it comes to exotic animals and it could possibly from time to time imply taking the struggle to courtroom — an expense small cities can unwell find the money for.  

“as opposed to have every municipality run round and take a look at to perform a little more or less a protectionist bylaw, i feel it could be better if it was once either federal or provincial,” he stated.  

The mayor of South Huron instructed CBC he used to be thankful that a earlier municipal council had enacted an exotic animal bylaw in 2014. 

George Finch stated he was surprised to be told that such rules had been treated at a local level and would love to look the provincial and federal governments “step up to the plate.” 

“It’s for sure one thing that should be handled past the county level. It need to be dealt with at a provincial level at a minimum.” 

A spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General, that’s answerable for animal welfare in the province, instructed CBC the legislation of exotic animal possession lately may also be addressed in municipal or neighborhood bylaws. 

A PAWS committee was struck a couple of year in the past to recommend the minister on problems, “including any future regulations governing the prohibition or restriction of possession or breeding of exotic animals,” mentioned the spokesperson.    

rather than have each and every municipality run around and try to do a little more or less a protectionist bylaw, i feel it could be higher if it used to be both federal or provincial.- Tom Deline, mayor of Centre Hastings, on exotic animal bylaws

Laws round conserving such animals vary, not just in Ontario, however across the united states of america. 

This makes it not possible to even estimate how many animals are stored in captivity in backyards or roadside zoos, in keeping with Kathy Duncan, director of national methods with Humane Canada, a countrywide organization representing SPCAs and humane societies. 

“to call it a patchwork across the united states of america would be generous.”

Duncan says there may be rising federal support to pass the Jane Goodall Act — Bill S-218 presented in November 2020 — which might make it an offence to maintain non-domesticated animals, akin to great apes, elephants and tigers.

Hoping the cats get back  

Drydale says there is no need for any ban on exotic animals and insists there are excellent reasons for individuals like himself to own them, pointing to animal wrangling for movie and television productions and academic functions.

The PAWS Act is doing what it is intended to, he said, crediting the province for allowing him to relocate his animals in preference to seizing them.

“It controlled me when issues went south here. They did the suitable thing,” he said. “They made sure that those animals had been moved to a safe place.”

Drysdale mentioned he plans to convey the animals back to Maynooth as quickly as he can.


“of their bylaw, they do have an exception for sanctuaries and people caring for animals,” he said. “And That I used to be happy to see that, to be honest with you. It’s kind of throwing you a bone.”

if truth be told, the brand new laws only provide exemptions for shelters run through the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or the municipality, but people can apply on a case by way of case basis. 

That Is a decision the municipality might need to make.

The documentary “Of Tigers and Towns” used to be produced by Joan Webber. With files from Yvette Brend.

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