Ohio lawmaker to introduce exotic animal regulations

Hearings on bill scheduled for next week

3/8/2012
BY ANN SANNER
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Cindy Huntsman displays Banana, an albino Burmese python, at her Stump Hill Farm in Massillon, Ohio.
Cindy Huntsman displays Banana, an albino Burmese python, at her Stump Hill Farm in Massillon, Ohio.

COLUMBUS — An Ohio lawmaker plans Thursday to introduce a proposal to ban new ownership of exotic animals in the state, months after authorities shot dozens of lions, tigers, bears and other wild creatures let loose by their suicidal owner.

A Republican state senator from Zanesville, the eastern Ohio city where the animals were shot, has helped write the legislation.

State Sen. Troy Balderson's office says the measure would immediately prohibit people from acquiring new or additional dangerous wildlife.

Owners of lions, tigers and other large animals such as elephants and crocodiles would be banned in 2014 from keeping the creatures unless they acquired a wildlife shelter permit. They would have to meet new caging requirements, obtain insurance, microchip the animals and adhere to strict care standards. Owners also would have to register their animals within 60 days of the law's effective date.

Zoos, circuses, sanctuaries and research facilities would be exempt.

Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets. Efforts to strengthen the state's law took on new urgency in October when authorities were forced to hunt down and kill 48 wild animals — including endangered Bengal tigers — after their owner freed them from his Zanesville farm and then committed suicide.

Celebrity zookeeper Jack Hanna has criticized state lawmakers for not yet passing new regulations.

One of three leopards that were captured by authorities near Zanesville, Ohio, after their owner released dozens of wild animals and then killed himself.
One of three leopards that were captured by authorities near Zanesville, Ohio, after their owner released dozens of wild animals and then killed himself.

"What's it going to take, everyone, to pass a bill? Someone else getting killed?" Hanna told an Ohio newspaper trade group last month.

In August 2010, a bear attacked and killed a caretaker during a feeding at the home of a man who also kept wolves and tigers on property near Cleveland.

A hearing on Balderson's legislation is planned for Tuesday.

The bill would let owners of constricting and venomous snakes keep their reptiles, but they must have safety plans in place in case the snakes got out. Owners could still breed and acquire new snakes.

The proposal is less strict than a framework suggested last year by a state study committee that Gov. John Kasich convened in April.

The group had recommended a more stringent ban on the casual ownership of exotic animals. Those who still owned restricted wildlife — such as bears, monkeys and others — in 2014 without proper licenses or exemptions would have the animals taken away by state or local officials.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said Thursday the Kasich administration had reached an agreement with the Senate, and the governor is comfortable with it. He said in an email the new standards couldn't be met by casual owners of exotic wildlife, a group he said is more inclined to have problems with the dangerous animals.

"It's admittedly not everything we sought or that the working group recommended, but it's most of it and such a huge improvement from where Ohio has been that the governor is comfortable moving forward," Nichols said.

Kasich had supported the working group's recommendations, which had called for a tougher ban.