Jack Hanna discusses exotic animal laws

Famed Columbus Zoo director emeritus weighs in favor of legislation.

Jack Hanna.
Jack Hanna.

LEXINGTON, Ohio - Less than five months before Ohio’s exotic-animals law goes into effect, one of the most notable zookeepers and animal experts discussed the impact that regulation could have.

“The law had to be passed,” said Jack Hanna, the director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, who who served as the grand marshal of today's IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. “Do you know how many tigers were in this state after that happened? 200 in people’s backyards. The party’s over.”

Enacted last year in light of an incident in October of 2011 in Zanesville, in which Terry Thompson released nearly 50 exotic animals that were later killed by authorities after Thompson committed suicide, the law goes into effect Jan. 1 and bans private owners from acquiring, selling, and breeding restricted species in Ohio. That list includes lions, tigers, bears, elephants, alligators and all venomous snakes.

“We had to do it," Hanna said. "Ohio was the laughingstock of the world, and I don’t ever want to go through that again.”

In the hours following the release of the animals in Zanesville, Hanna consulted law enforcement and wildlife authorities in the decision to kill the animals that Thompson released from his farm.

“That was probably one of the worst days of my life,” Hanna said, when asked about Zanesville. “It’s good for me to talk about it. There was no time left. There were neighborhoods 200 yards away with people locked in their houses.

The Columbus Dispatch reported last month that private owners had registered more than 350 animals. Starting Oct. 1, and before Jan. 1, owners must obtain and pay for a permit to keep their animals.

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.