Owner of St-Édouard Zoo facing charges of neglect and cruelty to animals
A zoo owner in central Quebec is facing criminal charges after roughly 100 animals were seized at a facility in Saint-Édouard-de-Maskinongé.
Normand Trahan was arrested Tuesday morning by SPCA investigators, with the assistance of provincial police, on charges of animal neglect and cruelty.
If found guilty, Trahan could face up to five years in prison and a lifetime ban on owning an animal.
“To our knowledge, this is the first time in Canada that a zoo owner is facing criminal animal cruelty charges,” said Sophie Gaillard, animal advocacy director with the Montreal SPCA.
It is also the first time in Quebec that animal cruelty charges have been laid by way of indictment under the federal Criminal Code, Gaillard said, which opens the door to harsher penalties than under provincial laws.
“We’re really pleased that this file is being taken seriously by the prosecutors involved,” she said at a news conference at the zoo on Tuesday.
The animals found at the St-Édouard Zoo, about 120 kilometres north of Montreal, include lions, tigers, zebras, camels, kangaroos and bears.
Flags raised in 2018
The SPCA said it started investigating after a visitor called them in 2018.
“We received a complaint from the public and conducted a thorough investigation that led us to discover other pieces of evidence,” said Gaillard.
Two alpacas were seized in October 2018, following an initial inspection the previous August. Four animal carcasses, including those of two tigers, were also found, as well as the bodies of two birds.
Humane Society International (HSI), a non-profit organization, is tasked with caring for the remaining animals and finding them new homes.
SPCA and HSI employees have spent the day going around the zoo to take inventory of the living conditions.
“Some animals didn’t have access to water and proper food,” said Ewa Demianowicz, senior campaign manager with HSI/Canada.
“Some animals needed veterinary care, so these are not conditions that we usually see in zoos,” said Demianowicz.
So far, none of the animals were found to be in “imminent danger,” but it will take weeks to transfer them to other sanctuaries in the HSI network, in Canada and in the United States.
“This is without a doubt the most complex animal rescue we’ve undertaken in Canada,” said Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of HSI/Canada.
The costs of the operation are partially being covered by the Eric S. Margolis Family Foundation, which supports wildlife advocacy organizations.
The St-Édouard Zoo had been fined in the past for breaching Quebec’s wildlife protection laws.
The Ministry of Wildlife, which is responsible for issuing permits to zoos, could not confirm at this time whether Trahan had the proper permits to run an exotic zoo.
Quebec’s business registry lists the zoo as a breeding facility for livestock and poultry.
According to Radio-Canada, it had been for sale for several years because Trahan wanted to retire.
The 69-year-old appeared at the Trois-Rivières courthouse Tuesday afternoon and was released on a promise to appear June 21.
His lawyer, Michel Lebrun, said Trahan has always collaborated with officials and was planning to open the zoo this week.
“As far as I know, he has had the proper permits with the Ministry of Wildlife and the MAPAQ [Quebec’s food and agriculture inspection agency] for the past 30 years,” said Lebrun.
Trahan took over the property in 1989 when it was known as the Centre d’Observation de la Faune.
According to the zoo’s website, visitors can see up to 100 species of exotic animals, including lions, tigers, baboons and leopards.