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Canada’s reptile trade on the rise as expert warns of safety risk

An African rock python sits in a reptile zoo in Peterborough, Ont. The reptile trade in Canada is a growing industry that has seen an increase in the number of private reptile breeders, according to Rob Laidlaw, executive director of Zoocheck Canada Inc.

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The reptile trade in Canada is a growing industry in which the number of private reptile breeders, including those who breed large constricting snakes, has jumped, according to an animal welfare expert.

And for Rob Laidlaw, the executive director of Zoocheck Canada Inc., this week's tragedy in New Brunswick is the manifestation of just one of his concerns about keeping giant snakes as pets – they are a public safety hazard.

"They are large, robust, they can be 80 to 300 pounds and sometimes up to five metres long and they have 100 to 120 recurved teeth in their mouth and when they grab hold of you they don't let go," he says. "They can be dangerous to an adult, let alone a child."

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His organization has advocated that these animals be banned as pets – not just for obvious safety reasons, but because they can carry disease, they are stripped from their own habitat, resulting in ecological harm and distress and for welfare concerns.

"If you look at some of these animals, like giant constricting snakes, they are kept in tanks or very small spaces and they're pulled out for somebody's amusement. They are basically warehoused," he said in an interview. "We don't think this little tiny subset of people who keep these animals should hold the day."

Mr. Laidlaw is the author of a comprehensive 2005 report about the reptile trade in Canada.

His research shows there is little record-keeping about the number of reptiles that come into the country. The number of animals requiring a permit, such as turtles and tortoises and those species on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, can be tracked – but other reptiles are unregulated and "can be brought into Canada without restriction for almost any purpose," writes Mr. Laidlaw in his report.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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