Peter Fricker: B.C. must enforce exotic animal regulations or risk disaster

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      The provincial government’s regulation of dangerous exotic animals is being put to the test by dubious, self-styled animal rescuers, some gullible media, and the public’s short memory.

      In 2007, 32-year-old Tania Dumstrey-Soos was killed by a caged tiger kept by her partner, Kim Carlton, at his property near 100 Mile House. Six months earlier, the Vancouver Humane Society had written to the B.C. Ministry of the Environment, warning that Carlton’s makeshift enclosures were “a disaster waiting to happen” but, sadly, no action was taken.

      Carlton’s business, Siberian Magic, was an animal rental agency, providing tigers and lions for commercial film work and using them to “educate” the public about conservation at appearances in malls and community centres. (For a fee, children could have their picture taken standing beside a tiger.) The tragic incident finally triggered provincial government action on the unregulated keeping of exotic animals in B.C.

      The result was the introduction of the Controlled Alien Species Regulation in 2009, which, through a new permit system, would restrict the keeping of certain dangerous exotic animals.

      Animal welfare advocates hoped the regulations would curtail the activities of amateurish exotic animal businesses, with their uninspected, homemade enclosures, cages, and tanks, and their spurious claims of education and conservation work. Advocates were encouraged when, ironically, Carlton became the first person to be convicted under the new regulations after he acquired two lion cubs last year.

      But in recent months, the government’s regulations have been challenged by Mike Hopcraft, an Abbotsford reptile enthusiast who recently “rescued” a pet alligator—from a Surrey reptile enthusiast. The so-called rescue had local media falling over themselves to record the exciting and dangerous transfer of the animal from one suburban tub of water to another. Hopcraft was characterized as an exotic animal specialist, bravely employing his expertise in a delicate and dangerous operation.

      When it emerged that Hopcraft was being investigated by provincial conservation officers for possessing the alligator without a permit, some media continued to champion him. Reports described him being subjected to “bureaucratic hassles” and being dogged by government “paper tigers”. (The environment ministry is now considering whether to grant him a permit.)

      But did anyone ask him about his qualifications? Is he a wildlife biologist? Is he professionally trained in conservation? The truth is that Hopcraft, just like Carlton, is an amateur collector of exotic animals who makes his living by exhibiting them. And what about the standards of his operation? His reptile “facility” is a warehouse and is not accredited by any zoological body. And what resources does he have?

      According to his website, Hopcraft is currently living in his van and is seeking cash donations to keep his outfit afloat. Is this the kind of operation we should entrust with the care of complex exotic species?

      Even long-established zoos with considerable resources and expertise struggle to provide appropriate habitats for exotic wildlife. The once respected Calgary Zoo, for example, has faced a firestorm of criticism after a string of animal deaths caused by human error over the last two years. How can an under-resourced individual be expected to provide a safe and humane environment for dangerous animals? We have been here before—and it can result in disaster. Has the lesson from the death of Dumstrey-Soos really been forgotten so soon?

      Animal welfare, in addition to public safety, is easily compromised when self-styled animal “rescuers” convince the media and public that they know what they’re doing. Late last year, yet another exotic animal business, Cinemazoo, attempted to move its animal collection from Whalley to South Surrey. A number of animals died and Cinemazoo’s proprietor, Gary Oliver, is now under investigation by the B.C. SPCA for animal cruelty. Yet Oliver has managed to attract publicity, public sympathy, and donations to stay in business.

      Businesses and individuals who make money from keeping and exhibiting animals, and who claim the expertise to do so, should face tough scrutiny and demanding standards. The provincial government should strictly enforce exotic animal regulations to ensure there is no room for self-aggrandizing amateurs who put public safety and animal welfare at risk.

      Peter Fricker is the projects and communications director for the Vancouver Humane Society.



      Alex Petty

      Feb 4, 2011 at 8:17am

      Regarding Gary Oliver, an investigation is just an investigation, I have worked with Mr.Oliver and he is in no way cruel to animals and he has 50 years experience in caring for exotic animals as well as veterinary training. Where as you have no training in the care of exotic pets so I do not see how you could be so opinionated on the topic. Being part of a humane society in no way makes you an expert or even knowledgeable.

      D. Patterson

      Feb 7, 2011 at 7:52pm

      Probably the most one sided agenda minded "article" I have read on exotics in BC. Next time do some homework and print real facts not fanciful boasts on how anyone who keeps exotics is dangerous and cruel.
      If the SPCA had their way no one could keep any pet save for cats and dogs.

      Martin Dunphy

      Feb 7, 2011 at 9:24pm

      Mr. Patterson:
      Just a note to call to your attention that this "article" is filed under "commentary". You can, accordingly, file it as belonging somewhere between "opinion" and "news". It therefore does not have to meet the same standards as hard-news reportage, although there is nothing to prevent a contributor from referencing as many information sources and sides of an argument as he/she pleases.

      Have a nice day.

      you're one sided

      Feb 7, 2011 at 9:59pm

      Here's a thought. Try calling Mike and actually talk to him, instead of speaking like you know everything. His number is 17788087277.
      Don't post sh*t without getting the whole story. Amateur move on your part!


      Feb 7, 2011 at 10:00pm

      Wow, really? Do your research before writing such a hideous article. First tigers versus non-venomous snakes, and unlike the tiger the alligator is not out for anyone to see/stand beside. Secondly, Mike Hopcraft does not show his animals purely for personal gain, but to raise money in order to help animals that are abandoned and/or mistreated! If you had taken the time to do some reading or heck, even visit the facility, perhaps you wouldn't be quite so ignorant.


      Feb 7, 2011 at 10:16pm

      It may be just a "commentary" but Frickers writes as though he thinks he's presenting the truth... even though his biased, one-sided writing greatly decreases his credibility. I hope people consider this before trusting his "facts".

      Alecia Tennant

      Feb 7, 2011 at 10:28pm

      It amazes me everytime how ignorant, one-sided and biased people can be. Mr. Fricker, I would really appreciate a public record to be made, known and published BY YOU on how many people have been harmed (killed) in BC and even Canada by exotic animals vs domestic animals. Especially before you discredit the housing of these animals. Not to mention tear apart a person like Mike Hopcraft who has put his animals, that he happens to love dearly, before himself. Banning 'Exotic' animals because of one person being killed is such a obvious doing of prejudice and fear mongering! All done by ignorant people who choose not to educate themselves becaue they really don't care enough to take the time to. The majority of animals housed by people have the ability to harm and kill. I have owned my fair share. Snakes, lizards, dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, ect. I have a scar from a rabbit bite when i was your and another scar from a terrier. I have never been harmed by any of my reptiles! My daughter on the other hand was viciously attaked by a household cat while she sat still and watched it drink from its water bowl. She has mulitple scars on her head and neck. I think you get my point! As for the inproper care of these unwanted, unloved creatures. I'm sorry... how many abandoned Exotics are there vs the number of unwated and abandoned dogs and cats. How about you start dealing with the hard facts and numbers and then talk without a bias towards exotics just cause they may not be your cup of tea!

      N. Evans

      Feb 7, 2011 at 10:35pm

      I agree with you Mr. Fricker in the fact SOME people don't know what they are getting into when they purchase exotic animals and reptiles. Mike Hopcraft is NOT one of those people!! I have known him personally for at least 12 years and he has always had a huge amount of both interest and knowlege of the exotic creatures he has cared for over the years. He has worked in pretty near every pet store in Penticton, if not all of them. Mike does great things for these animals and is trying to teach our youth that although these animals are cool, they come with great responsibility! He is rescuing these animals from people that never learned that lesson. These animals are being deaply cared for and are doing their part in helping Mike try to combat animal cruelty! I do believe that is the cause that you are fighting so hard for. I suggest that if you really want to help support the cause that you are BOTH involved in, you need to put a lot more effort into your research!


      Feb 7, 2011 at 10:39pm

      you said "Hopcraft is currently living in his van and is seeking cash donations to keep his outfit afloat. Is this the kind of operation we should entrust with the care of complex exotic species? " my answer to this... He is exactly the type of person we should entrust with these exotic and sometimes dangerous species.. The amount of care and compassion and eagerness to learn about and improve these animals lives is amazing and should be applauded to.. and the fact he is asking for donations and is living out of his van so he can afford the warehouse and for their say is something we should frown upon.. I say you are delusional.. who shall we entrust if we "CANNOT" trust someone with so much compassion?!?!?! I do not personally know about mister hopcrafts "qualifications" but does everyone need "written proof" of what they are capable of?!? I personally think not!

      Kyle Eby

      Feb 7, 2011 at 10:45pm

      Instead of pointing out all the problems and flaws, come up with solutions. The animals didn't decide to come here, nor did Mike Hopcraft seek to bring them into the province. Mike simply takes the animal from an unsafe, inhospitable environment and puts them somewhere out of harms way, and makes an effort to educate the public on these animals. So in fewer words, yes this is "rescuing" in many senses. Would you rather them where they were in "makeshift cages"?

      If it is believed that he is under qualified, find a way to get him qualified, he's got the heart and his mind is in the right place. We have the SPCA for other animals. Where is the "SPCA" for reptiles? Lets remember that these animals once had a home, how would you handle this situation? Kill the animals? Or have them released into the wild, in which case would need a "transition home". These animals are "dangerous"... the animal didn't choose to come here... This really seems like an unwarranted personal attack toward Mike Hopcraft. As humans we tend to put ourselves at the center of the universe. We aren't the only ones on this planet; it seems that Mr. Hopcraft is one of the few that understand this and might need some help, whether its funding, volunteers that have "qualifications", getting qualified or all of the above.

      Thank you for your opinion, I respect it. Please do your best to respect mine. :)