A RED kangaroo living in a cage the size of a garage at a Canadian zoo is about to change the animal cruelty laws of its adopted home.
Nicknamed Tyson, the tired and sick-looking Australian native has been languishing in a cage thousands of kilometres from home since 2001.
Normally able to travel at speeds of up to 48km/h and leap up to 9m in a single bound, the kangaroo has been restricted to hopping just a few metres in its small, dusty enclosure at Lickety-Split Ranch & Zoo in London, Ontario.
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Locals say the roadside zoo's animals have suffered through an eight-month Canadian winter of snow storms and sub-zero temperatures.
But Tyson has only a metal shed for protection against the cold.
Donna O'Donnell, who lives nearby, said all the animals were kept outside in tiny metal cages during London's bitter chill.
"It snowed so hard one day, the weather closed down the whole city," Ms O'Donnell said.
"The conditions those animals survive in is just dreadful. I cannot go there. I would break down in tears."
Canadian animal activists are outraged at the kangaroo's appalling living conditions.
"For the past six years, Tyson has lived in a small, barren cage the size of a single-car garage, with just a patch of dirt and a metal shed to sleep in," Toronto-based World Society for the Protection of Animals campaigner Melissa Tkachyk said.
"There is absolutely nothing in the exhibit for stimulation and Tyson does not have enough room to hop like a normal kangaroo.
"Unfortunately, Tyson will probably have to endure these conditions for the remainder of his captive life, because Ontario has the weakest animal cruelty laws and zoo regulations in the country."
The kangaroo's plight has been the catalyst for a bill before the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, which would force zoos to close if they did not provide appropriate living conditions for the animals they kept.
More than 13,000 people have signed a petition in support of the bill, introduced last year by Liberal Party MP David Zimmer.
Locals and tourists – including one Australian – had contacted animal protection groups on numerous occasions concerned about Tyson's predicament, Ms Tkachyk said.
But when The Daily Telegraph rang zoo owner Shirley McElroy at her home, she sighed and hung up before any questions could be asked.
She did not answer numerous subsequent calls and had previously disconnected the direct line to the zoo after negative press coverage in the local media prompted a flurry of concerned phone calls.
The zoo has been closed over winter and will re-open next Thursday.
Ms Tkachyk said Ontario had 45 zoos, most of which were substandard.
Roadside zoos, in particular, kept animals in poor conditions and lacked the trained professional staff needed to care for them, leading to psychological and physical health problems.
A spokesman for the Canadian Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians said none of his vets had any business with Lickety-Split.
Red kangaroos, known by their scientific name macropus rufus, are the world's largest marsupial.
They are common in Australia, particularly in Queensland, live up to 18 years, and survive on grasses.
Register your disgust about Tyson's treatment. Have your say on our blog or email the Canadian High Commissioner Michael Leir at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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