Not Your Neighbourhood Pet Store – the “Odd and Unusual” Exotic Animal Auction

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Zebra at OLEX

Photo credit – http://www.weanimals.org/ – We Animals – Jo-Anne McArthur

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

On Saturday May 3rd I attended my first exotic animal auction – The “Odd and Unusual” event run by Tiger Paw Exotics and its owner Tim Height from Arthur, Ontario. Height is the Canadian and less flash version of the US’s Joe Exotic – he sells animals to private collectors and provides creatures for film and TV productions.  The auction is not widely publicized and is certainly not found on the Tiger Paw website itself.  Obviously,  they don’t want to attract the wrong sort of people – people like me and a group of others attending the auction at the same time who will document the conditions of the animals and try to do something about it.

I’m somewhat late as usual, and when I arrive, the auction is just beginning with saddles and other animal-related products being offered at the Orangeville fairgrounds. The auction used to be held at OLEX – Ontario Livestock Exchange in St. Jacobs, Ontario, but Tiger Paw and Height were allegedly asked not to return after complaints from residents.

baby pygmy goatThe signs indoors prohibit alcohol and photography. Of course photography is not permitted because the state of the pens and the condition of many of the animals is sad or even disgusting in some cases. They know that OMAFRA (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs – has jurisdiction over farm animal (but not exotic) animal auctions) and animal activists are present in droves and they want what happens in Orangeville to stay in Orangeville and not end up on YouTube.

I know there are other people here like me (activists) because I see sympathetic-looking women looking intently at the animals, or taking notes on pads of paper. Like my friends and I, they don’t fit in either – their hair is not dishevelled, there’s no Virginia Slims 120 dangling from their lips, nor are they missing half their teeth. Sometimes we make eye contact and they look knowingly at me and me back at them.

It also seems odd that you’d have to put a sign up to advise event-goers that they should refrain from drinking alcohol, until you realize that the crowd is a mix of trucker and cowboy hats, NASCAR jackets, and the requisite mullets, whose owners appear to be on their way to a cosplay event. The parking lot featured an assortment of barely roadworthy trailers, some almost completely rusted through in parts, or with missing floor boards. A couple were deathtraps you wouldn’t touch without a tetanus shot. There are a small number of Mennonites here too. A few parents brought their children to fawn over the animals, oblivious to the care issues that stand out.

Fortunately, there are no exotic carnivores here today, probably not a good idea considering the amount of prey animals in attendance. The smaller animals such as macaws, snakes, finches, geese, rabbits, and a peacock are housed in a room separate from the farm animals and other exotic ungulates such as Przewalski’s horses and zebras. With a few exceptions, most animals are not nearly as odd or unusual as their owners or event attendees – we see a baby bison, some highland cattle, goats and sheep, lots of mini horses, standard and mammoth donkeys and a few camels – mostly the type of animal you might see at a petting zoo.

Few if any of these animals belonged to Height himself and were offered on consignment – after being here only a few minutes it becomes apparent that there are vastly different standards of care seen auction trailerhere – from clean animals in good flesh to thin animals with horrid hooves and manure-caked long coats. I didn’t know what to expect, and was quite unprepared for the inconsiderate, and, in some instances, abusive handling and housing of animals I saw in the holding areas.

Even the clean animals were still observed to be handled roughly – pulled by twine “halters” while they occasionally trembled in fear and steadfastly refused to go forward.  In most pens there was no food or just remnants of hay, and I saw no water at all for any animal. The stalls for the zebras and Przewalski’s horses were filthy – it’s hard to believe they would have arrived in the morning that same day.

Both groups of equines seemed wary or completely over the idea of people coming to look at them. A mammoth donkey is presented for auction with a twoonie-sized raw sore on her tail. The camels are outfitted with halters several sizes too small, restricting their ability to chew and leaving embedded marks on their heads and noses. Several animals, particularly the mammoth donkeys, have long, chipped hooves or “elf boots.” And the hyacinthe macaw, protected by CITES against over-exploitation through international trade, has plucked out all his body feathers, a behaviour often taken to be caused by anything ranging from confinement neurosis to skin infections, hormone imbalances, and wasting disease. Plucking is virtually unknown in the wild bird population, and no other pet practices the self-destruction parrots do. Some have compared plucking to trichotillomania, the obsessive compulsive human disorder of hair pulling. Birds observed in the wild spend 50 percent of their waking time finding food, 25 percent interacting with their flock, and 25 percent preening. We put them in cages where they have no flock or social structure and put a bowl of food in front of them and wonder why some are neurotic. In any event, the macaw is really not suitable for sale or even display, and a disagreement erupts when a concerned bystander asks that the bird’s cage be covered with cardboard to prevent an excess of gawkers.  Tim Height himself is there and reluctantly complies. When it is suggested that the bird might be underweight, a helpful woman offers that there is “enough meat on him to eat.”

bald Hyacinth macawThere are few opportunities to take pictures surreptitiously. A “security” detail follows various people who have taken pictures or complained about the condition of some of the animals. Of all the farm animals, I notice a trio of alpacas and mini horses are the only really clean looking animals. You’d think that people would at least run a curry comb through their animals knowing they were going to present them for sale? Another group of donkeys and ponies are filthy – caked in manure and urine. You can only wonder what their living conditions are like. Some baby animals are here, too young to be separated from their dams, and will be unable to nurse if sold without them. Several babies are in pens with male animals while their dams are nowhere to be seen. You don’t need any experience bottle feeding a zebra or any other animal here, just enough cash to buy the animal. I suspect a lot of these people learn to care for animals by trial and error, and there are no questions asked of the prospective purchasers.

The event organizers obviously see no problem with the deplorable practice of accepting unweaned baby animals for sale. We see a pygmy goat baby who would still be nursing. He is not ambulatory, camped out and appearing to strain. He occasionally falls down. His eyes exude a purulent yellow-ish discharge, and he continually sneezes. The adult male goats in his pen are not very tolerant of the little fellow. The OMAFRA rep who is onsite declares it illegal for the owner to have transported him in this condition – non-ambulatory animals cannot be transported according to Health of Animals regulations and other regulations, although I’m sure there will be no penalties for the owner. So a rescue attempt is made and a veterinarian is called to assess him. Dr. Mallu Postens arrives and declares he may have a blockage and is unfit for sale. She administers sub-cutaneous fluids and he appears to revive somewhat – and why not? If he is still nursing no wonder he became dehydrated without anything to drink. I wish I could tell readers that he was rescued but I don’t precisely know what happened to him………

In 2010, an Ontario man was mauled to death by his pet tiger—the same animal that had attacked a ten-year-old boy several years before. A few years ago, a woman near 100 Mile House, British Columbia, was killed by her fiancé’s Siberian tiger. Even though these animals were not present today,  this auction still contributes to the Canadian illicit animal trade. So do some roadside zoos in Ontario, who also sell exotic animals to private collectors.  Overheard at the event was someone claiming to have bought a tiger from the Northwood Zoo in Seagrave, Ontario.

Animals who do survive long enough to be sold here are often subject to inadequate care afterwards, because caretakers are often unprepared or unable to provide for the needs of animals who are so far removed from their natural

These are the most basic of animal requirements,  and it's clear that the owner of the baby pygmy goat is in violation.

These are the most basic of animal requirements, and it’s clear that the owner of the baby pygmy goat is in violation.

habitats. Many exotic animals will likely die or be abandoned by their caretakers.  Zebras in particular are especially ornery and difficult to tame and will often fight viciously with other zebras.

The province of Ontario doesn’t require licensing to keep dangerous exotic pets. Ontario does not have province-wide regulations; instead, there is a confusing hodgepodge of municipal rules that allow monkeys in some jurisdictions while forbidding tigers in others. You could live next door to a person keeping lions in his backyard and not even know it. Toronto has banned the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores but we can still sell exotics north of the city. And you still need a license for a dog and maybe even a cat.

There appear to be no health guarantees offered for any of the animals either. What guarantees are there about vaccinations or zoonotic diseases? Salmonellosis, B-virus, and tuberculosis are three of the most dangerous pathogens that can be transmitted to humans from reptiles, monkeys, and cattle. If some of these animals have obviously not seen a farrier in months, can they be confidently ruled-out as vectors for disease? If all this is not yet completely off-putting, consider that next to the display of exotic animals (and just outside the washrooms) is the presence of a food concession stand . And not a bottle of hand sanitizer in sight!

Word has it that there is another exotic event to be held here in November . Assuming that the town doesn’t rise up against these types of events, I’ll have to remember to black out some of my teeth so as not to stand out too much at my next visit.

 

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About Heather Clemenceau

Hopefully as I've grown older I've also grown wiser, but one thing I've definitely become cognizant of is the difference between making a living and making a life. Frequently outraged by some of life's cruelties, and respect diversity. But.....I don't suffer fools gladly, and occasionally, this does get me into some trouble! I have the distinction of being the world's worst golfer - no wait, I do believe that there is a gypsy in Moldavia who is a worse golfer than I. Nor am I much of a dancer - you won't see a booty-shakin' flygirl routine from me! I'm also not the kind of cook who can whip up a five-course meal on a radiator either! And I've never figured out how to get an orchid to bloom a second time. I love to discuss literature, science, philosophy, and sci-fi , or even why Seinfeld is funny on so many levels. Words move me. I'm very soft-hearted about most things, especially animals, but I have a stoicism about me that is sometimes interpreted incorrectly. I do have a definite edge and an often "retro-adolescent" sense of humour at times. I'm a big advocate of distributed computing projects to advance science. Check out http://boinc.berkeley.edu/ if you want to find out more. I'm an eclectic (but not crazy) vegetarian, and as such, it's a personal practice of mine to seduce innocent meat-eaters into cruising the (salad) bars at every opportunity. You would be powerless to resist. I was recently surprised to find that a computer algorithm concluded that I write like Dan Brown, which is funny because I didn't think Dan Brown could actually write. Check out your own style - http://iwl.me/ Oh, and I love impractical shoes and funky hats.

11 responses »

  1. I HATE sales/auctions like this!!! I have to say, I would have sold a kidney to get the Hyacinth McCaw. I know nothing about them, but they’re so intelligent, it would have been worth anything I paid to get it so I could then get it the care and help it needed, even if that meant simply giving it right up to a professional rescue center. The hooved animals, regrettably, are much more common in their condition and treatment. Having been in horses for 20-odd years, I’m beyond being astonished by the lack of concern for care and treatment. Which is not to say that the hooved animals are not just as deserving of good care as the animals like the Hyacinth McCaw but I think the McCaw’s condition is such that deserves immediate concern for it’s continued survival.

    • The macaw is tragic – I wonder how they acquired it? But the baby goat was the most distressing. Most of the time he was completely limp when held and while the macaw needs help, but baby goat may not have survived that day.

  2. Reblogged this on Pass the SAFE Act! and commented:
    How is it even possible to allow these animals to be sold? Why aren’t the authorities there arresting these people for animal abuse and cruelty? Simply put, capitalism trumps animal abuse issues. What in the hell does that say about the human race? Not much unfortunately. Glad to know that there were many witnesses to this atrocity and pray that they take the information they have and report it to their local authorities, if for nothing else but to get it on record and to speak for those that could not. Photos of the dangerous trailers that would be used to transport them in should be reported as well. Just so shameful to read how unenlightened we truly are here in this 21st Century.

    • We would like to know the same thing. Our SPCA does not work on weekends, OMAFRA only has jurisdiction over farm animal auctions, and there are fews laws against having exotic animals for sale either. How to motivate paid officials to do their jobs is the $64,000 question.

      • Indeed. Truly we are such an advanced society, there really is absolutely no reasoning in the world to explain why we are still living in the dark ages when it comes to animal welfare.

  3. Shocking, depressing and I must say I can’t stand seeing a bird alone in a cage, or any other creature by himself for that matter. That poor MaCaw……..there was no exaggerating there!

  4. Thank you Heather for what you are doing to draw attention to these horrible events, I too wonder how we can be in the 21st century when we have evolved so little!

  5. The Hyacinth is plump. In his featherless state you would see his keel bone like crazy (would appear as a sharp ridge down his chest if his breast were not plump. It doesn’t look like he has feather follicles on his chest so they may not grow back even if he stops. Monkeys have been known to beat themselves in the head when frustrated and other mammals may lick or chew themselves raw when anxious or mistreated. Parrots are definitely not the only creatures that self mutilate, I don’t know where this assumption originated but it is, in my observations, wrong. I speak as an animal rescuer with nearly a decade of experience with large and exotic birds. I expect this bird was sold for breeding, which would be great for the species with the right people. Macadamia and brazil nuts are not cheap so most of these birds end up living on musty discount sunflower seeds so the breeder can make higher profits. Not all, but some. Here is hoping…

    • I tend to draw a distinction between self-injurious behaviour like licking or biting oneself and pulling out feathers. The feather-pulling is more akin to actual mutilation – substantially altering its own appearance, while the other examples you cited are perhaps more closely described as abuse. That’s my feeling anyway. The bird here was eating peanuts – he or she is probably OK weight-wise. Generally, the scant few people I have known with some rare animals *usually* have them as status symbols – they don’t have any interest in conservation or aren’t aware of an animal’s status in the wild. Yasmin Nakhuda, the intial owner of the IKEA monkey Darwin, had some parrots and was initially looking for a hyacinthe macaw before she acquired Darwin, and while undoubtedly being much loved by her, he was also an obvious status symbol judging by the many YouTube videos of him being taken out in public to restaurants and other shops.

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