The global trade in exotic pets is a multi-billion business and sales in Manitoba are on the rise, states a provincial report commissioned in the aftermath of the tragedy in New Brunswick last month that saw two small boys killed by an African rock python.
And although some exotic animals can pose risks to human safety and health, the government has, until now, lacked a co-ordinated approach to dealing with them. Instead, a patchwork of provincial laws, spanning several departments, govern the creatures, the report says.
"Industry representatives estimate the trade value in reptiles alone to be approximately $250,000 annually within the province. This is expected to double in the next two to five years, based on current trends," chief provincial veterinarian Wayne Lees said in his report.
'Industry representatives estimate the trade value in reptiles alone to be approximately $250,000 annually within the province'
The report also said there are likely "tens of thousands" of reptiles kept or bred as pets in Manitoba.
The 19-page document, a copy of which was obtained by the Free Press, recommends the province launch a targeted public awareness campaign to inform owners on the safe handling and proper care of exotic pets. It also suggests the government work with the Association of Manitoba Municipalities to develop a template or guidelines for the creation of local bylaws on exotic-pet ownership and possession. (The City of Winnipeg, which recently updated its rules governing the ownership of wild and domesticated animals, has one of the most comprehensive bylaws in the country.)
Down the road, the report says, the province could create an interdepartmental strategy on exotic pets and, if need be, pass legislation to further regulate and license pet stores, breeders and owners of exotic animals.
But Lees said in an interview Monday public education and the creation of sound local bylaws should be given a chance to work first before the province introduces a new set of laws and regulations.
And Premier Greg Selinger agreed Monday, calling that "a sensible approach." He said creation of a provincial set of rules and regulations would only be done as a last resort.
"I think what the report has done is given us a path forward that is practical and cost-effective and can protect the public, which was the whole point of this exercise," he said.
In his report, Lees said the majority of exotic pets are sold either online through websites such as Kijiji or in pet stores. While most exotic pets sold here used to be imported, the majority are now bred within Canada, the report said.
Apart from the possibility some exotic animals may injure or kill someone, there is also the risk certain animals can pass on diseases to humans. The report said about 75 per cent of new or emerging diseases are zoonotic in origin, meaning they pass from animals to humans.
Lance Rosolowich, co-owner of Pet Traders on Portage Avenue, said sales of reptiles are down compared with what they were a few years ago, but they played a crucial role at a critical time for his industry.
"The reptile industry itself basically saved the pet business during the recession because it was peaking at that time," he said. Most reptiles sold by stores are quite small, such as corn snakes, which are the size of garter snakes.
Rosolowich and other pet store owners interviewed said there is also a considerable underground trade in exotic animals, much of it carried out online.
"You can buy in Manitoba anything that you want," he said, including African rock pythons. When young and small, they can be had for $100.
"A lot of these guys who sell this stuff, they don't realize the ramifications of it 10 years later," Rosolowich said.