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Viral video of lion sparks concern over roadside zoo in Clarington, Ont.

A TikTok video posted last Friday, showing a lion at an Ontario roadside zoo that looked like it had escaped its primary enclosure, is sending shockwaves throughout the animal advocacy community.

The video, taken outside Jungle Cat World Wildlife Park in Orono, near Clarington, is circulating through various channels. It appears to show a passerby walking her dog and coming across the lion behind the fence.

World Animal Protection’s Michele Hamers said they received the video and investigated right away.

“The person taking the video seems to be quite distressed, she’s telling her dog to stop barking, and she seems to be distressed because the lion is close and behind a low fence,” said Hamers.

The 30-second-long video was taken after sundown and doesn’t give a clear view of exactly how close the lion is to the fence. While it’s hard to speculate exactly what the enclosure looks like in the video, World Animal Protection said this video raises awareness of a larger issue.

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World Animal Protection is calling on the government of Ontario to take control of issues regarding animal welfare and to investigate more thoroughly. Hamers said they are calling on the government for better licensing systems that focus on the highest animal welfare, public safety and health standards.

“Animal Welfare Services inspected Jungle Cat World on March 13th in response to a complaint that a lion was free of it’s enclosure,” Ministry of the Solicitor General spokesperson Brent Ross says in a statement regarding the video.

“At the time of the inspection, all lions were in their enclosure, and there was no threat to public safety.”

The organization said it has a history of visiting this particular zoo, and has studied the enclosure in question. In 2019, the zoo was called out for offering close-up interactions with tiger cubs and wolves. In 2011, a wolf escaped the facility, which led it to be fatally shot.

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For World Animal Protection, this just scratches the surface of a larger issue, Hamers said: the minimal rules for roadside zoos. World Animal Protection said Ontario has standards of care for zoos to follow, which falls under the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act. However, Hamers argues that the guidelines are vague and hard to enforce.

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The organization also said an estimated 50 per cent of municipalities in Ontario don’t have any bans on animal ownership.

This past September, a report was published evaluating 11 different zoos, including Jungle Cat World Wildlife Park.

“One of the closures, actually the one in the video, is critiqued by us because of its lack of appropriate height, and barrier to prevent animals from climbing the fence,” said Hamers.

“Lions can jump as high as 12 feet, which is why professional zoo standards recommend keeping lions behind fences at least 25 feet high,” World Animal Protection said in its statement regarding the video.

Global News reached out to Jungle Cat World Wildlife Park for an official statement, but it declined. However, the owner stated they are denying all allegations surrounding the video, including that the lion was outside of its enclosure.

They repeatedly said they take care of their animals, and all their enclosures are to standard.

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Hamers said there’s been an ongoing trend of non-compliance.

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“We want to see an overhaul of the system, which has been broken for decades. The government needs to stand up.”

Hamers said aside from the animal welfare aspect, there’s a safety issue.

“A lion escaping can easily lead to a fatal accident,” she said. “Ontario needs to step up and follow what other provinces are doing.”

World Animal Protection said it is in the process of filing a complaint with Durham regional police, as well as the PAWS inspectorate. It said it will continue to advocate for the welfare of these animals, but hopes the provincial government steps up with stricter guidelines and provisions.

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