TORONTO - The tiger-mauling death of an Ontario man should serve as a wake-up call for the province of the dangers of owning exotic animals, the World Society for the Protection of Animals said Monday.
Norman Buwalda, 66, went into the tiger's cage on his property in Southwold, Ont., 30 kilometres southwest of London, on Sunday afternoon to feed the 300-kilogram animal when it attacked and killed him, police said.
His death was a tragedy that could have been prevented had the province banned the keeping of dangerous exotic pets when it revised the OSPCA Act earlier this year, said Melissa Matlow, programs officer for the society.
While some municipalities have introduced bylaws prohibiting keeping exotic animals as pets that patchwork is inadequate and the province needs to step in and implement licensing, said Matlow.
"It should be restricted to only people who are keeping professional facilities and can ensure the animal's welfare and the public safety," she said, adding animals such as tigers are dangerous and do not make suitable pets.
"You need a licence to keep a gun - you don't need a licence to keep a tiger in your backyard and that's just inadequate for public safety."
Ontario is the only province that doesn't require a licence to keep dangerous exotic animals, the society added.
The Ontario government did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Last year, British Columbia implemented new rules to ban dangerous pets that could harm the public after Tania Dumstrey-Soos, 32, was clawed by a Siberian tiger owned by her boyfriend and bled to death. The attack occurred in front of her children.
Perhaps the most famous case of a big cat attacking its owner involved Roy Horn of Siegfried and Roy. Horn was brutally mauled and severely injured on staged by Montecore, a massive white tiger, during a 2003 performance at The Mirage casino in Las Vegas.
In Ontario, there have been about 50 incidents reported since 1985 of exotic animals - including tigers, lions, jaguars, bobcats, bears and wolves - either escaping from zoos, sanctuaries, exhibits or private properties or attacking people, according to the society.
In 1994, a 16-year-old boy died after being attacked by a tiger at a private animal display near Wiarton, Ont. In 2003, a 16-year-old female employee at Dornoch Zoo in Grey County, Ont., was injured by a lion. Three years later, lions attacked visitors in two separate incidents at Colansanti's Tropical Gardens near Leamington, Ont.
Buwalda's property had been the scene of a tiger attack before.
In June 2004 a 10-year-old boy suffered critical head and neck wounds after being attacked by a Siberian tiger after it was led out of its cage on a leash so the child could take its picture. Police said Monday they don't know if it was the same tiger that killed Buwalda, who has legally owned several tigers, a lion and cougar over the years.
"We don't know for sure whether or not that was the tiger because he has had several tigers over that period of time," said provincial police Const. Troy Carlson.
The tiger that killed him is still in the cage on the property and is in the hands of the family, said Carlson, who added he didn't see any other animals on the property on Sunday.
Southwold Township, where Buwalda lived, brought in a bylaw after the 10-year-old boy was attacked banning a person from owning exotic animals.
Buwalda fought the bylaw in court and won.
The society says about 60 per cent of all Canadian zoos are in Ontario. Most of the 45 zoos in the province are roadside zoos, she said. The society alleges that many are substandard facilities that keep animals in small, barren and unsafe enclosures.
Because the big cats aren't licensed there's no way to say for certain how many are being kept in Ontario but the society estimates about 500 exotic cats are kept as pets in the province, Matlow said.