Groups that tour the country showing students animals such as porcupines and foxes fear proposed bylaw changes in Canada's largest city could prevent them from bringing their creatures to Toronto.
About 50 people attended a public meeting on Wednesday at City Hall – some to voice their concerns, others to give support. The former fear an end to programs that see lizards brought into the classroom or penguins waddling around your backyard.
"We might be in a situation where a scientist from the Toronto Zoo can't bring a spider or a frog into a classroom," said Delivis Niedzialek of Little Ray's Reptile Zoo and Nature Centre, a business with locations in Ottawa, Hamilton and other parts of the country.
His organization helps rescue animals and reptiles, then uses them in shows for kids and adults at schools, summer camps and birthday parties.
Mr. Niedzialek is worried about losing business in the Toronto area if the proposed changes to the city's bylaws are approved.
"There is going to be a large breadth of educational programs that the rest of Canada will continue to enjoy, but Toronto, the largest city in Canada, will be the only city not to enjoy them," he said.
Last year, city staff conducted a review of the list of animals not allowed in Toronto. Their report, presented on May 31 this year, established new criteria for banning exotic animals. For instance, if the animal is endangered; if it is venomous; if it could kill city residents; if it is not being taken care of properly; if it could become an invasive species; or if it is loud, smelly or produces large amounts of waste. The report also recommended that cranes, flamingos and penguins be listed as prohibited.
"Prohibited animals would not be permitted to be used for private or public events, such as school visits, birthday parties or camps in Toronto," the report reads.
Peter Kendall helps run the national group Earth Rangers, which he says has brought animals and birds into hundreds of school gymnasiums over the years. He said the proposed changes would mean his group would no longer be able to bring its lynx, skunk, pine marten, porcupine or fox to Toronto schools.
"We would have no choice but to stop in Toronto," Mr. Kendall said.
Some people at the meeting said it would be better if council created two lists: one with banned animals and one with permitted animals.
Others suggested that the travelling-animal industry needs to be better regulated to weed out those who own and tour animals without proper training or care for the creatures.
"Many of those operators don't adhere to high standards. They're not sending the right educational messages to their audiences and they don't have good animal-welfare standards," Mr. Kendall said. "Let's make sure that we don't lose the great programming just to get rid of the bad players."
Erika Ritter said she represented Torontonians who believe no animal should be in captivity.
"The predominant concern that I heard from the public was for the animals, not whether somebody's kid was going to get bitten by a lizard at school," Ms. Ritter said. "This is not just about us … it is about how we are treating the animals of the world."
Ward 30 Councillor Paula Fletcher said doing what's best for the animals is part of the point of the proposed changes.
"I got a call a few years ago, and someone said, 'There is a kangaroo on a leash outside my window' … I have been in a school where a kangaroo has been in a cage at a fun fair," Ms. Fletcher said. "I don't want any more kangaroos on leashes or in cages. I never want to hear about that again."
She expected the proposed changes and recommendations to be finalized at a meeting on July 5.
Chapter 349 of Toronto's municipal code lists at least 46 mammals that residents are not allowed to own, including goats, skunks, raccoons and mongooses. At least 14 types of birds are banned, including pheasants, turkeys and ostriches. Snakes longer than three metres and lizards more than two metres long are also banned, as are all venomous and poisonous animals.