A sign warns passing motorists about exotic animals on the loose on Oct.…
The tragic carnage and panic that unfolded this week outside Zanesville, Ohio, after a man set free the 56 wild animals he kept on his property were clearly extraordinary events set in motion by a deeply troubled person who later killed himself.
But the fact that Terry Thompson — who had been convicted of animal cruelty in 2005 — was even allowed to own lions, tigers and wolves, among other dangerous animals, spotlights the disturbing inadequacy of Ohio law on the issue. Two years ago, the Humane Society of the U.S. singled out Ohio along with Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina and Oklahoma for having the fewest restrictions on keeping wild animals as pets. Both the Humane Society and Born Free USA have tracked dozens of violent encounters between people and wild animals held by individuals in Ohio over the last several years. Last month a man was repeatedly punched by a kangaroo at an exotic animal farm in Ohio, according to the Humane Society.
Although Ohio law calls for a veterinary certificate of health on some privately kept wild animals — and an entry permit if animals are brought from elsewhere — the state does not impose limits on possession beyond that. State regulations vary dramatically. California, for example, has a complete ban on private ownership of wild animals without a Department of Fish and Game permit, which is issued only for commercial, educational or research purposes.
Thompson had 18 tigers among the 49 animals ultimately killed by law enforcement officers. All tigers in the wild are endangered and protected by federal laws and international treaties. Yet animal advocates believe that there are more than 4,000 tigers in private hands in the U.S., more than there are in the wild throughout the world. Thompson's big cats may have been captive-bred "generic" tigers, which federal laws do not regulate. However, the U.S. government is considering new restrictions on such tigers as well.
States should have strict regulations to govern the private ownership of wild animals that have the ability to seriously harm people. Few individuals — even those who are not as troubled as Thompson — have the training or the resources to care for wild, dangerous animals.
If Ohio chooses not to go the route of the 21 states that ban the private possession of most wild animals, it should at least set strong new restrictions about who can be an owner and what rules they must abide by.