Debate Forum Topic, 11/8/11

Debate Forum Topic, 11/8/11

Calls intensify for an aggressive ban on exotic animals in Ohio


By John Sherffius

By John Sherffius

The scene last month near Zanesville, Ohio was described by Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, as what one would expect if Noah’s Ark had crashed.  There were at one time 56 wild animals roaming the Muskingum County countryside. The owner of an exotic animal farm, Terry Thompson, opened the cages freeing the animals, and then committed suicide, according to authorities. Thompson died from a gunshot wound. Citing concern for the safety of the Zanesville community, sheriff’s deputies were forced to track down and kill the escaped animals. Of those 56 wild animals, 49 were killed. Six animals — a grizzly bear, three leopards and two monkeys — were captured alive and taken to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. The animals that were killed included 18 tigers, nine male lions, eight female lions, six black bears, three mountain lions, two grizzly bears, one baboon and two wolves.

The scene of roaming animals and the aftermath of the rows of dead animals lying side by side, made national and international news. Ohio has one of the least restrictive laws in the nation governing the possession of exotic animals. There are at least 20 private owners around the state of Ohio who have 20 exotic animals or more. Calls went out immediately for new regulations to ban the private ownership of these animals, following the Zanesville incident.

New ownership of lions, tigers and other dangerous animals likely would be banned in the state under proposed rules. Those new regulations would allow existing owners to keep them but require them to face new permit rules, according to members of a committee studying exotic animals. That committee, made up of representatives from government and animal interest groups, has been meeting since June, but last month’s episode in Zanesville placed new urgency on their mission.

During their recent meeting at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, the committee received a call from Governor Kasich urging the committee to stop “nit-picking” and to quickly finalize a recommendation for the strongest law in the nation, reported a source present at the meeting. The committee hopes to make a recommendation to the legislature by the end of November.

At the present time, there is not unanimity within the committee on the final version of the proposed legislation. The Humane Society has taken issue with an exemption that allows facilities accredited by the Zoological Association of America to have animals, because they don’t adhere to the same breeding rules of zoos. Some animal groups are complaining that the measures are going too far as it will interfere with their efforts to rescue exotic animals from abusive situations around the country. One thing they all agree upon is that they want to prevent a repeat of last month’s tragedy.

Forum Question of the Week:
The proposed Ohio ban on the ownership of exotic animals still exempts some groups currently accredited by the Zoological Association of America. Does the proposed ban go far enough?

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