Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //


Kendra Coulter holds the Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence at Brock University and is a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.

As the world reels from the physical, psychological, social and economic effects of COVID-19, millions of people are temporarily being distracted by Netflix’s docu-series Tiger King, a show about people who own, train, exhibit and exploit tigers. Viewers watch, jaws dropped, people and places that seem so different and shocking. But it is not actually a distraction – it is a mirror and a microscope, because the world that created the novel coronavirus and the Tiger King is one and the same.

This is a world that has failed to respect animals: in Wuhan, at a wet market where wild animals are sold to be eaten and where the novel coronavirus is thought to have originated, and in the orbit of Joe Exotic, where fame and power are glorified and the well-being of captive animals is an afterthought. The fact is that humans are not only harming animals but also endangering ourselves.

Story continues below advertisement

Scientific research suggests that the consumption of animals was the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, and this has been true of most recent outbreaks, including swine flu, bird flu and mad-cow disease. Zoonotic (animal to human) transmissions do not occur in a vacuum. As the United Nations Environment Programme and many researchers have argued for decades, rampant deforestation, industrial animal agriculture, climate change and the global trade in exotic species have exponentially increased health risks. In fact, in 2007, “the presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China" was identified as a “time bomb” in the journal of Clinical Microbiology Reviews.

The series, like the men in it, plays down both the risks of the wild animal trade and the damage captivity does to these animals’ bodies, minds and social lives. I cried at the end, for all of the victims, including the chimpanzees, who had been trapped in cages behind the action and who finally got considered. The animals and their suffering are relegated to the background, even when the camera is right on them.

The circulation, possession and exploitation of wild animals does not happen solely in some far away country, nor in the exclusive domain of Joe Exotic. CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, protects some animals. Yet it is not illegal to own tigers in much of Canada. Or lions. Or monkeys. Or pythons. Precise numbers are difficult to determine, but it is estimated that there are around 1.5 million privately owned exotic animals in Canada, including nearly 4,000 big cats.

Each province determines how (or whether) it will regulate the possession of exotic animals, so the specifics vary greatly. In British Columbia, the list of banned species fills 50 pages. In Ontario, it is only illegal to own two kinds of animals: orcas and pit bulls. The province’s 444 municipalities are empowered to make bylaws that prohibit or restrict exotic animal ownership and some have done so. Many have not.

We can be grateful for organizations such as the Fauna Foundation in Quebec, home to many primates, retired from medical research and entertainment, and for Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary in Ontario, which provides respite for monkeys. These are places where people try to give rescued animals a decent life, while knowing that the physical and psychological scars of what we have done to them will never fully heal. But we also ought to consider why such a need for animal sanctuaries exists.

We require more regulations and smarter laws, undoubtedly. We also need robust enforcement and to recognize that bans are not enough on their own because newly illegal activities will move underground (dog fighting, for example). Plus, many painful practices and forms of harm are perfectly legal and deemed normal or necessary, even as factory farming is specifically highlighted as exacerbating health risks as well as climate change. To save animals and ourselves, we need to end harmful practices and create more sustainable, ethical, humane jobs and legislation.

Without question, the principle of One Health – that human, animal and environmental well-being are intimately connected – should be thoughtfully applied in both health and economic policy and practice.

Story continues below advertisement

This is not a drill, nor an abstract thought experiment or mindless entertainment. Humans’ desire to eat animals, to capture and control them, to seem impressive, powerful or different by being near wild species, all contribute to this dire and dangerous situation in which we are ensnared.

The solutions are political and economic, but they are also personal. Never has it been more clear that we are all connected, and that how we treat animals has significant and often fatal effects – for them, and for us.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies