Humane Society International rescuers are on the ground in Quebec today, assisting with a massive seizure of more than 200 wild animals, including lions, tigers, zebras, bears, camels and kangaroos, from an unaccredited roadside zoo.

Earlier today, the zoo operator was arrested by the Montreal SPCA and charged with criminal animal cruelty and neglect. HSI is assisting by providing all on-site care for the animals and transporting them to our network of sanctuaries throughout Canada and the United States where they will get the care they so deserve.

Our staff, over many years of doing such work, have seen it all. Still, they tell me, the sights they came upon at this operation were disturbing. Many of the animals were confined in dark, barren, dilapidated enclosures. Others were living with entirely inadequate shelter with minimal protection from the elements. Some of the animals did not even appear to have access to water or proper food.

Many of the animals were confined in dark, barren, dilapidated enclosures.
Photo by Meredith Lee/HSI

Animals were suffering from a variety of medical conditions and were lacking veterinary care. Others showed signs of significant psychological distress including compulsive, constant pacing. Social animals were kept in solitary confinement and there was no enrichment in many of the enclosures.

This particular roadside zoo has a long history of warnings and charges from the Quebec government. In August 2018, when the Montreal SPCA performed its first inspection of the facility, they found four dead animals, including two tigers, at the site. The SPCA officers also noted the poor physical state of the other animals and their living conditions, and seized two alpacas who appeared to be in particularly poor condition.

Roadside zoos obtain the animals from questionable sources, house them inadequately, deny them veterinary care, and give them no access to any behavioral or enrichment programs. When the animals are no longer seen as useful, they are dispensed with – for instance, we have found that when tigers bred for “cuddling” and tourist selfies at U.S. roadside zoos grow too old for such activities, they typically end up being warehoused at substandard operations and pseudo-sanctuaries.

Montreal SPCA and HSI representatives assess conditions at the roadside zoo. The zoo operator was arrested and charged with criminal cruelty and neglect.
Photo by Meredith Lee/HSI

The owner of the zoo has been arrested and charged with animal neglect and cruelty under the Canadian criminal code by way of indictment – a type of prosecution reserved for the most serious offenses. He now faces a five-year prison sentence and the possibility of a lifetime ban on owning or keeping an animal.

Our staff in HSI/Canada has campaigned for more than a decade to achieve meaningful improvements to the animal welfare provisions in the criminal code, and this case underscores the importance of strong federal animal protection laws, particularly as they pertain to situations of gross neglect.

We are grateful to the Eric S. Margolis Family Foundation for their tremendous support with this rescue. HSI/Canada will now provide care to the animals, and eventually we’ll help transport and place the wild and exotic animals in a network of partner sanctuaries and specialized facilities throughout North America.

The rescue will continue today, and possibly over several weeks, and we’ll keep you updated. Animals at roadside zoos are typically born in captivity and can’t be returned to the wild, but we’ll ensure they go to facilities where they can live in situations that are as close as they can be to the natural environment they were meant to live in. Let's celebrate that, while not forgetting, for a moment, the fact that there are hundreds of roadside zoos here in the United States and around the world, where wild animals suffer terribly for tourism opportunities. The best way to fight them is as a consumer, by refusing to patronize them, thus not contributing to the horrible crimes they commit against animals.

*Editor's note: The number of animals has been updated to reflect the latest count.

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