Ohio, where dozens of animals were shot dead in October after being let out of their backyard cages by their suicidal owner, was ripe for catastrophe. After all, it is one of only seven states that lack any laws regarding the private possession of "exotic" animals.
Now, thanks to the hard work of animal protection organizations things are changing. Senate Bill 310 which, though not as strong as we would like it to be, establishes regulations where none now exist, last month was approved by the Ohio Legislature and was signed by Gov. John R. Kasich today, June 5, 2012.
Born Free USA, along with our coalition partners The Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, supports this legislation because the kind of horror that happened in Zanesville last fall should not be allowed to reoccur.
Among other things, SB 310 will:
• Ban new ownership of dangerous wild animals, including big cats, some smaller exotic cats, bears, hyenas, gray wolves, non-human primate species, alligators and crocodiles.
• Grandfather existing animals so people who currently have them can keep them, as long as they obtain a permit.
• Require owners of exotic animals covered under the grandfather clause to acquire liability insurance or surety bonds ranging from $200,000 to $1 million.
• Require existing owners of exotic animals to comply with housing and safety standards that will be established by the Ohio Department of agriculture.
• Require criminal background checks to qualify for a permit for owners of existing exotic animals.
Although the bill exempts professional zoos and sanctuaries accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), it inappropriately extends those same exemptions to individuals associated with the Zoological Association of America (ZAA), a group that advocates for private possession of dangerous exotic pets, and unaccredited "rescue" facilities.
The bill also allows the possession of constrictor snakes under 12 feet in length, even though more than half of the constrictor snake-related deaths in the U.S. have been caused by such snakes.
Just last month, a preacher in West Virginia died after he was bit by a rattlesnake he held in captivity. Pastor Mack Wolford had been encouraging his flock to test their faith by handling poisonous snakes. What a sorry and totally avoidable death his was.
Wolford's sad tale is listed in Born Free USA's Exotic Animal Incidents database, which details more than 500 occasions in which humans and privately possessed reptiles have come into conflict.
In Ohio, our database lists more than 90 exotic animal vs. human conflicts, most recently two four-foot-long alligators found captive in a Cincinnati basement during a drug bust, and a 1,000-pound African eland antelope shot with a tranquilizer dart after escaping from a private animal safari park in Huron Township.
We want events such as these to serve as brutal reminders that wildlife belong in the wild and that no one should ever put the animals or the public at risk by trying to confine them in a zoo, circus, backyard or home, where serious injury or death can occur at any time. Laws must be created and enforced to stop these potential situations at the source. No one should be allowed ever to "own" a wild animal.
With SB 310 signed into law, Ohio will prove that it is determined to prevent another Zanesville. It will illustrate a growing awareness that exotic animals cannot be casually possessed. It is not the end of Ohio's journey toward protecting wildlife and people, but it is a step in the right direction.