Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Were These Animals Sold On The Black Market?

Ontario's Bowmanville Zoo continued to worry yesterday about the fate of a tiger named Jonas and camels named Todd and Shawn, all of which disappeared last Friday outside a Drummondville, Que., motel when their trainer left them momentarily unattended in a trailer. While the zoo was offering a reward of $2,000 for proof that the beasts were being watered, animal experts worried they'd been sold for unsavoury purposes. The Post's Adam McDowell looks for answers on exotic animals lost and found.

Q Why would anyone steal a camel?

A According to a Salon article about camel trading in Egypt from 1999, "the sleek, sinewy dromedary is the cream of the camel crop," and that's what kind of camels Todd and Shawn are. That being said, central Canada is not the Nile Delta, and a camel could be tough to unload here. How many people buy camels out there? If you've got neighbours and all of a sudden they show up with a couple of camels, you know something is fishy," says Norman Phillips, owner and trainer at the Northwood Zoo and Animal Sanctuary in Seagrave, Ont. The real prize in the trailer, according to Mr. Phillips, was Jonas the tiger.

Q Why would someone steal a tiger?

A Tiger penis is considered an aphrodisiac by deeply gullible and superstitious people. The animals make for spectacular prey in illegal canned hunts where, as Mr. Phillips explains, they are let loose in fenced-in areas to be killed by hunters who have rigged the chase in their favour. "You take it out and shoot it like you're some big hero." And of course tigers make for impressive, albeit dangerous, pets. Michael Hackenberger, director of the Bowmanville Zoo, which owns the animals, mused that the high number of Hell's Angels bikers in the area may mean the animals were taken as pets, as has been proven in the past with bikers.

Q How hard can it be to look after a tiger, really?

A "Anybody who wants to buy a tiger has to be out of their minds if they have no experience," says Mr. Phillips, who looks after tigers at his sanctuary and assisted in the capture of a loose tiger in Barrie, Ont., a few years ago. People who want exotic animals often will purchase them on impulse and haven't given much thought to their requirements, how much care they will need," says Connie Mallory, chief inspector of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "They need people who have specific training. They are wild animals by nature, and it doesn't take them very long to revert back to that." Tigers are so difficult to handle that if the local SPCA gets a tip that a tiger is lurking in your neighbourhood, they'll probably call in a specialized zoo trainer to deal with it.

Q Should I be worried if I see a camel? Do camels attack?

A Usually not. "Sometimes they'll hock up on you [i. e., spit] if they get a little fed up with people. But they're pretty gentle creatures. There's nothing to worry about with a camel, that's for sure," Mr. Phillips says. Todd and Shawn are used to people and have been described as "nice."

Q Is it illegal to keep tigers and camels as pets?

A Not necessarily. For the most part, that is a matter for municipalities to decide. Animal advocates generally call for tighter restrictions on what animals people can own (for example, B.C. has a list of banned species).

Q If the camels were turned loose, where might they be?

A Possibly just mulling around on a patch of grass beside a highway somewhere in Quebec or Ontario. "They're not animals that like to go and hide," Mr. Phillips explains. "They could be free-grazing somewhere, which would be great because they're pretty easy to catch."

Q I have this, uh, friend who stole a tiger and two camels by accident. What should he do?

A Call the police or local SPCA. "I would strongly encourage them to return these animals. Turning them loose is not an option," Ms. Mallory says. If the animals died, the criminal charges would be more serious than theft.

Q Should I panic if I see a tiger?

A In a word, yes. Tigers kill dozens of people a year in India and Bangladesh, not to mention mauling the odd tiger owner (whether or not they perform magic in Las Vegas). They do not take kindly to their personal space being invaded. With tigers, you can train them but you can't tame them," says Mr. Phillips. "you can still never trust them bcause you don't know what they're going to do." That being said, "they usually shy away from people. They're not the kind of animal that are going to stalk you and hunt you down."

Q What if I see a tiger or a pair of camels in my backyard?

A "Watch the animal from a distance. Stay away from it and call [your] local police or SPCA," Ms. Mallory advises.

Q How much could a tiger be worth on the black market?

A Likely between $10,000 and $15,000, according to Mr. Phillips.

*Taken from the National Post