Lions and Tigers and Bears (Oh My)

So You Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

By A.J. Wagner

When Governor John Kasich took office in January of 2011, he did what many new elected executives do. He looked at the recently issued executive orders from the outgoing Governor and eliminated those with which he disagreed. Among the Governor Strickland orders issued in the waning months of his term was a requirement for the Department of agriculture to come up with set of rules to provide controls on ownership of exotic animals within a few months. Government and control not being permitted to comingle in the new Republican administration, Strickland’s order was allowed to expire.

In October of that same year all hell broke loose in Zanesville. That is to say 56 of the wild animals in the collection of the Muskingum County Animal Farm were released by owner Terry Thompson. During the ensuing days 48 of those animals were killed including 18 tigers, six black bears, two grizzlies, two wolves, one macaque monkey, one baboon, three mountain lions, nine male lions and eight lionesses. Suddenly, a little government control didn’t look so bad.

After extensive negotiation with animal rights groups, zoo keepers, wildlife experts and legislators and after sixteen drafts, exotic animal legislation was finally passed and signed into law by the Governor last month. Although the legislation will become effective in early September, it is phased in and does not become fully implemented until January 1, 2014.

If you would like to own an exotic animal to keep in your bathtub or your backyard, here are some of the new rules you will encounter while trying to stay legal. Keep in mind that there may be other rules beyond this, especially when it comes to wild birds, which are covered by a separate set of laws.

An exotic animal is defined within the new code as a “dangerous wild animal.” Any of the following, including most hybrids, are considered under this definition:

Hyenas; gray wolves, excluding hybrids; lions; tigers; jaguars; leopards, including clouded leopards, sunda clouded leopards, and snow leopards; cheetahs; lynxes, including canadian lynxes, eurasian lynxes, and iberian lynxes; cougars, also known as pumas or mountain lions; caracals; servals, excluding hybrids with domestic cats commonly known as savannah cats. bears; elephants; rhinoceroses; hippopotamuses; cape buffaloes; african wild dogs; komodo dragons; alligators; crocodiles; caimans, excluding dwarf caimans; gharials; nonhuman primates other than lemurs including: golden lion, black-faced lion, golden-rumped lion, cotton-top, emperor, saddlebacked, black-mantled, and geoffroy’s tamarins; southern and northern night monkeys; dusky titi and masked titi monkeys; muriquis; goeldi’s monkeys; white-faced, black-bearded, white-nose bearded, and monk sakis; bald and black uakaris; black-handed, white-bellied, brown-headed, and black spider monkeys; common woolly monkeys; and red, black, and mantled howler monkeys.

Any of the following snakes more than 12 feet in length are “restricted:” green anacondas; yellow anacondas; reticulated pythons; indian pythons; burmese pythons; north african rock pythons; south african rock pythons; amethystine pythons; atractaspididae; elapidae; viperidae; boomslang snakes; and twig snakes.

If you want to harbor, buy or sell one of these animals, or multiple animals in these categories after January 1, 2014 you must have a license issued by the United States department of agriculture under the federal animal welfare act. Of course, there are exceptions if you own an accredited zoo or aquarium, an authorized rescue facility, a circus, an accredited research facility a wildlife rehabilitation facility that is issued a permit by the chief of the division of wildlife, a veterinarian that is providing temporary veterinary care, a wildlife sanctuary; an educational institution that displays a single dangerous wild animal as a sports mascot under certain conditions; you have a special permit; if the animal is specially trained to assist a mobility impaired person, a deaf or hearing-impaired person or a person who is blind.

The animal must be registered with the Ohio Department of Agriculture and have a microchip with a transponder implanted. There are several other rules about fees, care of the animals and inspections that are worth looking into before you decide to take on that hippopotamus.

The law would require permitted owners to maintain certain records and notify the state Department of Agriculture if one escapes. If the animal is intentionally released it would be a felony crime and a misdemeanor if unintentional. Owners of restricted venomous snakes must provide accessible antivenin. The new law prohibits auctions of wild animals and provides civil immunity to a humane society or other enforcement officer who kills such an animal in the name of public safety.

The agriculture department must still develop standards for the care and housing of wild animals and snakes and local governments can create stricter rules so there is more to come.

So if you want that hippopotamus for Christmas, start planning now.

Disclaimer: The content herein is for entertainment and information only. Do not use this as a legal consultation. Every situation has different nuances that can affect the outcome and laws change without notice. If you’re in a situation that calls for legal advice, get a lawyer. You represent yourself at your own risk. The author, the Dayton City Paper and its affiliates shall have no liability stemming from your use of the information contained herein.

A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at

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A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at

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