Journalism in the Public Interest

Buckeye State is Longtime Leader in Breakaway Beasts

Ohio doesn’t regulate ownership of wild animals, so the release of dangerous animals isn’t new.


Investigators walk around a barn as carcasses lay on the ground at The Muskingum County Animal Farm Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011, in Zanesville, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Wednesday’s release of more than 50 exotic animals including lions, tigers, and yes, bears from a farm in Zanesville, Ohio,  certainly ranks among the most dramatic animal escapes – and one of the most tragic, as most of the animals were killed. But fleeing feral fauna are not new, especially in Ohio, one of fewer than 10 states that do not regulate private ownership of wild animals, according to the Humane Society of the United States.   

Last month, an 80-year-old Ohio man was injured when his 6-foot-tall, 200-pound kangaroo attacked him.  In June a 6-foot Burmese Python was found near a Cincinnati fast-food restaurant.  In 2007, an escaped lion was seen chasing cars along Highway 23 in Ohio. To quote part of the state’s motto, “all things are possible.”

Following a fatal bear attack at an Ohio farm, former Gov. Ted Strickland did issue an executive order in January banning ownership of exotic animals. But that order expired earlier this year and was not renewed by Gov. John Kasich.

State laws regulating ownership of exotic species vary widely.  Arkansas, for example, bans the ownership of “large carnivores” but grandfathered in people who already owned such creatures so they could keep them.  In Delaware, owners of “non-native wild animals” must obtain a permit. The law excludes venomous snakes.

Some states require owners of exotics to register them, but that doesn’t always happen. According to a 2004 Dallas Morning News report, more than two years after Texas required registration of exotic animals, only 89 were on the state’s list.  Yet Texas has an estimated 3,500 tigers alone – more than live in India.

Thousands more tigers live elsewhere in the United States, according to the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition, as do thousands of other large cats and at least 3,000 great apes. 

This is a disgrace to humanity and nature. What needs to happen before the Ohio legislature protects humans and precious, rare, exotic species from such destruction?

My guess is that money is somehow involved, since our politicians only follow the almighty dollar where policy is concerned. If I still lived in Ohio, I would be at the capitol or in my legislator’s office demanding a response.

Animals have just as much right to live on this earth as humans. The fault for this unfortunate situation lies equally with the Ohio legislature as it does with the fool who owned and released the animals before his suicide. Apparently, from police reports of previous run-ins with the law, this man did not care about anyone other than himself, regardless of the species. Someone should have stopped him before he became a danger to society.

In Miami-Dade County, Florida, people are not even allowed to own pitbulls or more than 2 pets at a time, but apparently in Ohio you can own an entire zoo of dangerous animals and not be prosecuted. What is wrong with this country?

I’m looking into my crystal ball and I see Ohio legislation next week to ban the private ownership of exotic animals, animals that should not be kept in an unregulated compund.  But wait, my crystal ball is seeing the anti-regulation zealots rising up and condemning regulations on these poor, helpless animals. 

“Oh help the animals,”  they say.

A long time friend of mine lived in Uganda for a spell when she was young. 
Since then she has never been to, nor did she ever take her children to a zoo.

Responding to Tom O.: as an anti-regulation zealot, I’d like to know, do you have a particle of evidence that animal-control regulations actually help at all, let alone are worth their cost?  Do you have that for any regulation?

James B Storer

Oct. 22, 2011, 11:34 a.m.

Tom O, Michael L:  I believe that intelligently composed regulations are essential.  They are of no value, however, unless they are honestly and strongly enforced.

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