Sunday, August 24, 2008

Raid on Lickety Split Ranch

London Free Press

Wildlife authorities and police raided an infamous London roadside zoo yesterday, carting away unknown numbers of animals.

Members of the London Humane Society, Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources and police swooped down on the Lickety-Split Ranch and Zoo to search for and rescue native species such as deer or foxes under Ontario's Fish and Conservation Act.

Officials had no power to seize exotic animals under the provincial law, however, and at least one zebra and a donkey were left behind.

The ministry wouldn't disclose what types of animals or the number carted away in a trailer to a safer place.

"We had reason to believe there were some animals that fall under the description of wildlife that were in captivity illegally," said Russell Brandon of the ministry's Aylmer office. "It is our belief there is no licence."

Lickety-Split owner Shirley McElroy had a zoo licence from 1996 to 2006, but failed to renew it in 2007, prompting yesterday's ministry action.

Officials had to tranquilize one deer to remove it from the property.

The zoo has a spotty history.

Earlier this year, McElroy was fined $4,000 for having two lynx captive with no licence.

Lickety-Split grabbed international headlines in 2006 when pictures surfaced of Tyson, a kangaroo cramped in a small cage. Tyson has since disappeared from the property, without explanation.

Lickety-Split has been closed for more than a year.

The zoo owner was nowhere in sight yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

The grass was overgrown on the property, and rusted machinery, strewn wires, truck parts, empty trailers and tires littered the site.

"It's the worst case of animal husbandry I've ever seen," said activist Vicki Van Linden of Friends of Captive Animals. "We need to pass Bill 50 to give greater protection for all animals in Ontario."

The bill, proposed Ontario animal welfare legislation, introduced in April, would allow officers to search a property without a warrant if they have reason to believe an animal is in distress.

Yesterday's raid on Lickety-Split was done with a warrant.

Londoner Florine Morrison remembered taking her daughter to the zoo more than 15 years ago and seeing a black jaguar in a tiny pen with no shade, cowering in the corner to stay cool.

"They squirted him with a hose to make him get up for the visitors. I thought that was so cruel," said Morrison, a member of the London Animal Alliance.

"It's important for the city to make the McElroys follow the same rules as the rest of London."

Because the zoo no longer has a licence, it should be subject to a city bylaw that prevents people from keeping wild animals, Morrison said.