Reptiles invade Canada––but not by their own choice

Snake with Canada tag

(Beth Clifton collage)

Inhospitable habitat, even if herps are kept indoors

EDMONTON, Alberta, Canada––Reptile breeder John Makaryshyn, 31, was on May 10, 2022 hit with 37 charges under Canadian federal law and 89 counts of allegedly violating the Animal Protection Act of Alberta in connection with the deaths of 674 reptiles and amphibians whose remains were discovered after a house fire on November 10, 2021.

The fire may have resulted from the unending effort to keep reptiles alive in the Canadian climate.

bearded dragon lizard

Bearded dragon. (Beth Clifton photo)

“Seriously neglected”

The animals “appeared seriously neglected and many had died prior to any effects of the fire,” according to an Edmonton Police Service statement.

Among the victims were bearded dragons, skinks, salamanders, frogs, snakes, and dozens of arachnids, CTV News reported. Firefighters rescued 10 turtles and a gecko.

“When we think of ‘animal cruelty’ our minds almost always go to cats and dogs,” said Edmonton Police Service animal cruelty investigator Ilka Cunningham.

“This investigation is a sad reminder of the suffering many exotic reptiles endure at the hands of breeders and importers,” Cunningham added.

Incorporation papers indicate Makaryshyn had operated a reptile breeding business called Poikilo Exotics Inc. from the home where the fire occurred since November 21, 2018.

John Makarshyn

Reptile dealer/breeder John Makarshyn.

Many men in Edmonton by same rare name

There appear to be at least one and perhaps three other men named John Makaryshyn in Edmonton, whose relationship, if any, is unclear––and few others anywhere else.

John FK Makaryshyn, a 1986 University of Alberta graduate, earned a law degree from the University of Alberta in 1989 and was admitted to the British Columbia bar in 1990, but according to his Martindale attorney profile, has not been admitted to the Alberta bar. His law office, however, is listed as the Double Diamond Electronics Inc. office in Edmonton.

Identified as practicing corporate and commercial bankruptcy law, John FK Makarshyn appears to be best known for work on issues pertaining to internet privacy.

A John R. Makarshyn is listed as president of Double Diamond Electronics Inc.

A John Makarshyn is also listed as shipping assistant manager at Double Diamond Electronics.

Reptiles on turquoise

(Beth Clifton collage)

“Canada is notorious”

The John Makarshyn who has been criminally charged in the reptile mass neglect case appears on the web site of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan, discussing metabolic bone disease.

“The first thing that I notice is a crooked tail, or weakness or tremors,” Makaryshyn explains there. “You pick them up [and they’re] just shaky when moving around.”

Offered Animal Justice, a Canadian counterpart of the US-based Animal Legal Defense Fund, “Canada is notorious for having extremely weak exotic animal ownership laws. Most jurisdictions have no restrictions on owning many exotic animals, and members of the public can easily obtain these animals without licensing or training.

Charity monitor lizard

(Beth Clifton collage)

“Often hidden away”

“When exotic pets are mistreated or neglected, they’re often hidden away in people’s homes, far away from public view,” Animal Justice said. promoting a bill “currently working its way through the [Canadian] Senate” that “would outlaw most captivity of over 800 exotic animal species, and also grant some animals limited legal standing in court.”

The Canadian Senate, unlike the US Senate, is an appointed rather than elected body, with an advisory rather than binding role in the passage of legislation. New Canadian legislation does, however, often originate in the Senate, where it is debated and, if approved by the Senate members, sent to Parliament with a recommendation for passage.


Triceratops on exhibit at the Royal Tyrell Museum. (Beth Clifton photo)

More fossil reptiles in Canada than live species

There are many more extinct reptile species whose fossils have been excavated near Drumheller, Alberta, on exhibit at the nearby Royal Tyrrell Museum, than the 48 living reptile species who now inhabit any part of Canada.

The US, by comparison, with a much more favorable climate for reptiles, has 530 living resident reptile species.

Further, Canada has only 38 million human residents compared to 332 million US human residents.

Yet the PETS 24-7 case files indicate that Canada has nevertheless had a comparable number of mass neglect cases involving reptiles during the past ten years.

prairie rattlesnake

Meadow rattlesnake. (Dave Pauli photo)

20 venomous snakes in North York home

Among others of note, Toronto law enforcement agencies, assisted by personnel from the Toronto Zoo, in January 2017 impounded 20 venomous snakes from a home in North York, including puff adders, cobras, rattlesnakes and multiple types of viper. All appeared to have recently been imported, along with another 18 venomous snakes who were found dead.

“The city says there are no federal or provincial laws against importing venomous snakes into Canada,” Toronto Star reporter Peter Goffin wrote, “but Toronto bylaws prohibit owning any venomous or poisonous snakes and any snake that can grow to more than three meters in length.”

garter snake

Garter snake. (Beth Clifton photo)

Riverfront Aquariums

Scary as that case was, it was small compared to the impoundment of 333 reptiles, amphibians, tarantulas, scorpions, and spiders from the Riverfront Aquariums pet store in Calgary in December 2015.

Riverfront Aquariums owner Michael Chow and manager Wayne Wood were reportedly hit with “hundreds” of charges in connection with that raid and others in September 2014, May 2015 and June 2015.

“In an 18-page written decision, Provincial Court judge Heather Lamoureux said the animals were found to have inadequate food, water and shelter,” Melissa Gilligan of Global News reported on February 28, 2017.

orb weaver spud

Orb weaver spider.
(Beth Clifton photo)

Fine record

“In the end,” Gilligan wrote, “the judge issued Woo a $20,000 fine, the maximum under the Animal Protection Act, and issued a lifetime ban on keeping animals, excluding fish and the dog he already owns.

“In addition Woo, who works at another Calgary aquarium store, is only allowed now to handle fish.

“Chow was fined $4,000 and handed a 10-year animal ban, excluding fish and one dog,” Gilligan finished.

The penalties were reportedly the stiffest ever in a Canadian animal cruelty case.


(Beth Clifton photo)

Crocs & gators

Also in 2015, the privately owned Indian River Reptile Zoo, near Peterborough, Ontario, took in more than 150 crocodiles and alligators from a Toronto home, along with an undisclosed sum for their upkeep, Michelle Mark of Canadian Press reported, after the married couple who had bought, imported, and/or bred the crocodiles and alligators realized the collection was more than they could handle.

That was the biggest herpetological hoarding situation in Ontario in all of two years, since the Brant SPCA recovered 40 ball pythons from plastic containers in a Brantford motel room in August 2013.

ball python

(Beth Clifton photo)

ball pythons

Alleged owners Guy Boissonneault and Cinthia Csomos were in 2014 convicted in absentia of three counts each of causing distress to an animal, failing to provide for the general welfare of an animal and failing to provide an established level of care to an animal.

Boissonneault and Cinthia Cosmos were fined $1,000 each and ordered to pay restitution of more than $600 to the Brant SPCA.

Local media clips indicate that Boissonneault subsequently took up bowling. Cosmos died in 2021, at age 37, leaving six children.

Connor & Noah Barthe.

Two Fatalities

Despite the frequency of Canadian herp-hoarding cases, and the numbers of reptiles involved in many of them, reported instances of exotic reptiles being found at large in Canada are vanishingly few, probably because non-native reptiles tend not to survive for long in the Canadian climate.

But arguably the most notorious pet reptile escape ever came only two weeks before the Brantford ball python impoundment, in Campbellton, New Brunswick, on the night of August 4, 2013, when four-year-old Noah Barthe and his six-year-old brother, Connor Barthe, were strangled in their sleep by an African rock python kept in an upstairs apartment by Reptile Ocean exotic pet store owner Jean-Claude Savoie.

The 12-foot-long, 50-pound rock python had escaped from what Savoie and the victims’ mother had believed was a secure enclosure and crawled through a ventilation duct before dropping into the downstairs living room where the victims were in bed.

Savoie was in November 2016 found not guilty of criminal negligence.

python snake

Python. (Beth Clifton photo)

Other python fatalities

The most recent python-inflicted fatality in North American before the New Brunswick case was the July 1, 2009 death of Shaiunna Hare in a similar incident in Oxford, Florida.

Her parents, Charles “Jason” Darnell, then 34, and Jaren Hare, then 21, were convicted of manslaughter in August 2011 and sentenced to serve 12 years each in prison.

About nine months earlier, on October 23, 2008, Amanda Ruth Black, 25, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, was killed by a 13-foot pet reticulated python she was apparently trying to medicate.

Beth & Merritt with T-Rex

Drumheller herp chews on some of Merritt Clifton’s ideas. (Beth Clifton collage)

Beth Preiss, then director of the Humane Society of the US campaign against keeping exotic pets, told media that Black was the eleventh known victim of a pet python in the US since 1980.

Globally, wild pythons are known to have killed three people in the past 20 years: one in South Africa in 2002, and two in West Sulawesi, Indonesia, in 2017 and 2018.

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