Loose Exotic Pet Laws - The Real Villain

BlogHer Original Post

This week's bizarre tragedy in Ohio brings attention to the widely varying exotic pet laws in each state. Terry Thompson, owner of the 73-acre Zanesville property that held 56 wild animals, committed suicide by firearm shortly after he let all the animals out of their cages. By all accounts, it was the final 'f**k you' to his community, which included kids on their way to school.


Lady Vet
Image: Chris Russell/Columbus Dispatch via ZUMA Press.

As we now know, 49 of those animals had to be hunted down and killed by woefully unprepared law enforcement, including 18 rare and endangered Bengal tigers. (Approximately 1,200 exist worldwide. This HURTS.) Thankfully, six were successfully tranquilized (three leopards, two monkeys and a grizzly bear) and are being treated at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

"Thank you for your concern regarding the animals in Zanesville that escaped from a privately owned animal menagerie October 18, 2011. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and the Wilds are working closely with law enforcement to preserve the lives of exotic animals as the situation permits. We are advisors assisting law enforcement with containment and relocation, with some animals being transported to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for evaluation."

--statement from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium website

The real question is: How was this man able to collect so many wild and endangered animals for his own amusement?

Ohio has some of the most lax laws in the nation for owning exotic species, something well understood by the state's previous governor, Ted Strickland, who issued an emergency order on the matter a few days before he left office. Ohio's current governor, Republican John R. Kasich, has been widely criticized for allowing this to lapse. He's been backpedaling like mad over the last few days - too little, too late.

I understand that Gov. Kasich is now fast at work on an emergency bill that will curtail such laws. Hopefully, this will take effect in 60-90 days, but it should never have come to this.

Wondering about the exotic pet laws in your state?

Born Free's Summary of State Laws Relating to Private Possession of Exotic Animals

Animal Legal & Historical Center 

Animal Planet: Top 5 Bizarre Exotic Animal Laws

And if you are considering owning an exotic pet, here's a helpful link from the ASPCA - food for thought. 

Finally, as a fierce animal lover, I have a thought for Sheriff Lutz and his deputies:

As much as I hate to admit it, I know you did the right thing. Truth is, most people don't grasp the delicate difficulties in tranquilizing a wild animal. (Famed wildlife expert Jack Hanna does.) Faced with a dangerous and bizarre situation, you protected the community as you were sworn to do. The animals should not have been there in the first place and this is something the governor will now have to explain and correct immediately. If these lax laws get tightened up, then maybe the animals did not die in vain. It's just a sad scenario from every angle but at least no innocent human beings were harmed.

"Hollywood couldn't even come up with this. It's like a bad dream."

--Jack Hanna

~Heather Clisby

BlogHer Contributing Editor, Animal & Wildlife Concerns; Section Editor, LIFE & GREEN; Proprietor, ClizBiz

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