February 14th marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year, and ushers in the year of the tiger. Coincidentally, there’s been some publicity surrounding a tiger in Ontario that has nothing to do with a New Year or good fortune. On January 10, a 300 kilogram Siberian tiger killed its owner, 66-year-old Norman Buwalda, when he went into the tiger’s cage to feed it. This tiger was one of many owned by private individuals or as part of dodgy roadside zoos in Ontario and across North America.

It is truly amazing how easy it is for people to obtain potentially lethal exotic animals like tigers, and how many (or most) jurisdictions have no rules against it. Tigers are beautiful and fascinating animals, but they shouldn’t be pets. Exotic pets carry many risks, including injuries and infections, not to mention animal welfare issues from poor management and feeding practices. This is far from the first exotic cat to have killed its owner, and unfortunately, it’s almost certainly not the last.

The latest concerns about this particular tiger involved its whereabouts. When the OSPCA (Ontario Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) went to the property to investigate a complaint about the well-being of other animals, they discovered that the tiger was gone. The town’s major was also unaware of the tiger’s location.

Provincial police, at least, knew more, and stated that the tiger and two lions were moved to an "undisclosed location" on January 27th.  I think people need to realize this isn’t the witness protection program, and there’s no justification for being secretive about the location of these animals. The fact that they are gone should be a comfort to neighbours in Southwold, Ontario, but what about the people that may now be living next to it? It’s pretty unlikely that these animals have been moved to a proper zoo with adequate housing facilities and handlers experienced with big cats. More likely, they’re in the same type of situation as before, just is a different locale.

In Ontario, you can be charged if you have a pit bull or even a dog that resembles a pit bull, but you can have a 300 kg carnivorous feline in your backyard. How does that make sense?