Authorities allowed Ontario couple to ‘voluntarily relocate’ 4 lions that killed and ate tiger

Officers with the Provincial Animal Welfare Service (PAWS) allowed an Ontario couple charged with animal cruelty to relocate four lions that killed and ate a tiger in July, according to a provincial official.

The incident happened at the Maynooth property of Mark and Tammy Drysdale. They were forced to move their collection of eight lions and two tigers from Grand Bend after their 14-month battle with town officials ended with a judge’s order that the animals could not remain there.

According to police reports obtained by CBC News, two OPP officers were asked by Prince Edward County health authorities to visit the couple’s property in July 2021 to check on the lions and tigers as a matter of public safety. 

The documents, which have been partly redacted, note officers were there with PAWS inspectors “after the lions killed the tiger and ate it,” because “the animals were able to dig a hole under the fence to get between enclosures.”

Tiger may have recently given birth

The handwritten notes of Const. April Hannah, one of the two OPP officers who attended the scene, suggest the tiger that died may have had cubs recently.

“Possibly two tiger cubs being cared for in community (mom was just killed),” she wrote.  

The Drysdales in a selfie with one of their two tigers. The photo is in a Facebook photo dated May 25, 2020. Its unknown whether the tiger pictured was the one eaten by four lions in July 2021. (Tammy Drysdale/Facebook)

The officers’ notes document the animals living in unclean conditions. It noted animal feces along the edge of the enclosures, and the four lions shared one water bowl “the size you would expect for a large dog” and it was “filled with dirty water.”  

In an adjacent enclosure, the officers note, there were two lemurs with “no water” and no food, with the exception of what an OPP occurrence report noted “appeared to be fruit loops spread on the ground.” 

While police noted “someone” was feeding the animals, redactions to the documents make it impossible to tell who, if police knew at all. Officers did note there was “no evidence of the animals being fed today.” 

Brent Ross, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General, told CBC News via email that the Drysdales have both been charged. 

“The ministry can confirm that Animal Welfare Services has laid charges in this matter,” Ross wrote.

Province not ‘responsible for the relocation’ of lions

Ross said the Drysdales are each charged with one count of permitting distress to an animal and four counts of failing to comply with the standards of care prescribed under Ontario’s PAWS Act.

Three lions peer through their enclosure while perched on an elevated platform in Grand Bent, Ont., in April 2020. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

He said the four lions that killed the tiger were not surrendered to the province by the Drysdales, who were allowed to move them to an unknown location.

“The animals were relocated voluntarily by the owners and placed elsewhere. While Animal Welfare Services inspectors were present during the relocation, Animal Welfare Services staff were neither involved with nor responsible for the relocation. We recommend you speak with the owners of the animals for more information.”

Mark and Tammy Drysdale didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment from CBC News. 

Media reports said the animals left the Drysdales’ property in August, and if PAWS knows where the animals went, it isn’t making that information public, something Julie Woodyer, the campaigns director for Zoocheck Canada, said is problematic.

Decision shows ‘lack of accountability,’ says activist

“It shows a lack of transparency and frankly, in my view, a lack of accountability to the public in general and certainly the people who live nearby,” Woodyet told CBC News on Wednesday. 

In a 2020 Facebook image, Tammy Drysdale pets one of the two tigers the couple once owned. (Tammy Drysdale/Facebook)

“I find it difficult to believe [provincial animal welfare officers] don’t know where the animals went. There was no reason why they couldn’t have seized those animals.”

Woodyer said that when ZooCheck found out about the incident involving the Drysdales’ cats, it made the provincial animal welfare service an offer. 

“We know it gets complicated to seize exotic animals. We offered them to bring in a legitimate sanctuary operator who would tranquillize the animals and move them at no cost to the province.” 

ZooCheck said it was prepared to send the animals to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado, but it appears the animals have not left Canada.

Lions and tigers are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and to export them from Canada, owners must submit paperwork to Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“If any animals from the Maynooth facility were exported from Canada, a CITES export permit issued by Environment Climate Change Canada (ECCC) would be required,” ministry spokesperson Samantha Bayard told CBC News in an email. 

“No such permits were issued by ECCC,” she wrote. 

Woodyer said she doesn’t understand why provincial officials turned down her organization’s offer to ship the cats to a sanctuary in Colorado. 

“It is astounding to me that rather than taking us up on their offer, they would allow the very people they were charging with neglect and or abuse to find homes for the animals which, in this case, means they end up back in the system.”

Lions, tigers, ‘name it, you can get it in Ontario’

Unlike other provinces, Ontario has no law governing the ownership of potentially dangerous exotic animals such as lions, tigers or even venomous reptiles, leaving it up to individual municipalities to create and enact their own bylaws.

Mark Drysdale scratches the chin of one of his eight lions, which were kept at Roaring Cat Retreat, a roadside zoo he opened with Tammy in Grand Bend, in this 2020 image on social media. (Roaring Cat Retreat/Instagram)

The result is a confusing patchwork of rules that are inconsistent, unclear and in many smaller communities, non-existent.

Woodyer said the resulting hodgepodge of policies creates opportunities for exotic animal owners who can disappear from the public eye only to reappear again, often in a community unequipped to deal with their animals. 

“It wouldn’t be the first time something like that has happened. Or, they end up at other roadside zoos, creating problems. In any event, they go back into that animal dealer market, and that’s a serious concern here in Ontario for sure.” 

It’s not clear how many big cats are owned privately in Ontario, but Woodyer said lions and tigers can be legally purchased through a few private companies or, in some cases, from individuals through private sales.

“Lions, tigers, primates, kangaroos, you name it — you can get it here in Ontario if you know where to look.”

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