A TikTok video has gone viral on social media, after a Quebec woman filmed herself just metres away from a lion while walking her dog in Orona, Ont.
Patricia Lapetite was visiting the area, which is about 100 kilometres away from Toronto, and decided to take her dog for a walk on a neighbourhood road. That’s when she came across a lion, with the video showing what appears to just be a short, chain-link fence and a snow bank separating her and her dog.
Lapetite would later find out that the large cat belongs to a roadside zoo, Jungle Cat World. Since then, the incident has added to concerns from animal advocacy experts, questioning the safety of the animals and for those in the community.
“There is a f****** lion in this yard that is so-normal looking,” said Lapetite in her native French in the video, as she called on her dog to “let's go, we're leaving, don't agitate the lion," after it appearing to be "eyeing" it.
The original video, posted on TikTik on March 8, is now not publicly available, while Lapetite did not respond to Yahoo Canada in time for publication.
Following publication, Jungle Cat World's program director Peter Klose responded to Yahoo Canada in an email, saying "the story of a lion escaping was only a rumour and categorically false."
The video appears to be taken next to Concession Road 6, a major street with lots of local activity. Across the street, there is a gas station and local restaurant, with residential houses nearby.
“The video speaks for itself,” said Michèle Hamers, World Animal Protection wildlife campaign manager, to Yahoo Canada.
“The dog was stressed and barking, not expecting to see a lion that close nearby. The woman seemed distressed and she was trying to calm her dog down, as the lion was responding to [the barks] and tracking them along the fence line. This seemed to be a very uncomfortable situation.”
While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the zoo’s enclosure looks like in this video, World Animal Protection believes that the encounter raises safety concerns, claiming the lion appears to have escaped from its enclosure.
Another video that’s been posted to TikTok shows that there is another, taller fence separating the lion from the street, but World Animal Protection claims that's also not enough.
“This is an incredibly dangerous situation. We are relieved that no one was injured, it’s a very strong reminder of how broken Ontario’s animal legislation is,” World Animal Protection said in its statement regarding the video.
“Lions can jump as high as 12-feet, which is why professional zoo standards recommend keeping lions behind fences at least 15-feet high. Additionally, safety measures should also be taken like the inclusion of an overhang at the top of the fence to prevent the animal from climbing out, and a proper perimeter fence surrounding the entire facility to prevent animals from leaving the zoo property.”
Hamers notes that an overhang, which is a fence that is curved inwards in the enclosure that will prevent a lion from climbing over the fence, “is missing in the video.”
Ontario Solicitor general spokesperson Brent Ross told CTV News that on March 13, following a complaint that the lion escaped from its enclosure, Animal Welfare Services inspected Jungle Cat World. At the time of inspection, all the lions were reportedly in their enclosures, while there was “no threat to public safety.”
Exotic animals in Ontario: Mounting concerns
This is not the first time that World Animal Protection has raised concerns about the zoo, among many others in Ontario — signalling a widespread problem.
In 2019, World Animal Protection called out Jungle Cat World, which has been operating since 1983, for offering close up interactions with tiger cubs, wolves and other wild animals for photos. In 2011, a wolf escaped the facility, leading to it being fatally shot.
A more recent 2022 report also reviewed 11 different zoos across Ontario, including Jungle Cat World. Issues were noted, such as poor design and construction of enclosures, which could lead to inappropriate interactions, such as the one seen in this video.
The report also states that “Ontario is the last major jurisdiction in Canada that has not licensed or restricted the keeping or use of exotic wild animals in captivity.”
“It’s truly the ‘wild west’ when it comes to wild animal ownership,” said Hamers. “How many more incidents like this need to happen before the province gets serious about reform?”
Questions around Ontario's minimal rules surrounding roadside zoos are still being asked. World Animal Protection wants Ontario to focus on building stronger animal legislation, just like the other provinces.
“Ontario has the weakest regulations in Canada,” said World Animal Protection in a press release following the viral video.
“The province leaves it up to municipalities to draft regulations, leading to a patchwork of rules. It’s estimated that approximately 50 per cent of municipalities in the province don’t have any bans on wild animal ownership.”
According to World Animal Protection, Ontario only bans the ownership of select native species. This leads to thousands more exotic species, such as tigers, lions and venomous snakes being kept as long as they’re not banned by municipalities.
World Animal Protection said they would like to see a comprehensive licensing system of facilities that keep animals for public displays, otherwise known as zoos.
“This licensing system should be according to the highest public health standards and animal welfare,” said Hamers “We are proposing to make this the last generation of these wildlife animals living in these tragic conditions.”