As of January 1, 2014, Ohio residents are no longer allowed to obtain exotic animals, and all previously owned creatures are heavily regulated. The law came into existence through a series of unfortunate events where exotic animal owner, Terry Thompson, in Zanesville let 49 of his animals loose before committing suicide in 2011. "The animals, including 18 tigers, were killed by local authorities," said Dan Stockdale, conservationist and founder of the World Nature Coalition (www.NatureCoalition.org). "Although the 2011 event was horrific, Ohio's politicians are playing God. By regulating rare species and further limiting their numbers, legislators will in fact push many species that much closer to the brink of extinction. Saving endangered species is far too important to be entrusted to politicians."
The 2011 event was the spark that ignited government to quickly draft a bill, now known as the SB 301's exotic animal ban, which requires all owners to purchase large insurance packages, complex "wildlife shelters" and other complicated precautions. If unable to do so, owners must forfeit their rights to keep their exotic animals immediately.
Prior to the law being put in place, exotic animal owners in Ohio could keep and care for their animals if registered. Individuals ranging from fans of large cats to zoologists with rare snakes were able to enjoy their animals for educational purposes, companionship and business.
Law SB 301 greatly restricts the ability to have such animals, including but not limited to leopards, spider monkeys and anacondas. In fact, many species on the list, such as alligators, emperor tamarins (monkeys) and Burmese pythons pose little to no threat to the general public.
To help alleviate the change of law, the Agricultural Department has erected a large Dangerous Wild Animal Temporary Holding Facility, costing taxpayers $2.9 million, plus ongoing upkeep. This is not a permanent solution, as government scrambles to find animals new homes out of state – even though none of these animals have ever posed a nuisance or threat to the public.
"In an emotional, knee-jerk reaction, politicians have chosen to remove as many animals as possible," says Stockdale, a conservationist and animal advocate. "Politicians think they are protecting the people of Ohio, but their efforts are misguided."
Many animals, although cared for well by their trained owners, are endangered in the wild. If owners are forced to surrender their animals, the likelihood these creatures will find other safe and regulated homes is not guaranteed. The more common scenario is these creatures can be euthanized or suffer a lower quality of life, he said.
"Although the incident in Zanesville was tragic, the likelihood of these events repeating themselves on a grand scale is next to none, as the statistics for owning for example, big cats, show there is only one death related to this lifestyle per year. Compared to auto accidents, narcotic use and even everyday mishaps, keeping exotic animals is very low on the scale of dangerous activities," he said.
"The 'tiger in your neighbors backyard' scenario that is often sensationalized and propagated on TV rarely exists," said Stockdale. "In most states those who own the animals are regulated and inspected frequently to insure the safety of the public and the animals. However, that doesn't make for good TV, so the public never sees that story which is truly representative of almost all exotic animal owners."
Ohio residents who keep exotic animals are doing good by protecting endangered species and offering safe environments for them to flourish. One heartbreaking instance has authorities leaping into action, and leaving exotic animal owners to endure the consequences. Although no humans were harmed in 2011, exotic creatures will now have to be misplaced, relocated and even killed in the wake of overly-aggressive and over-reaching politicians.
For more information, go to http://www.NatureCoalition.org