In wake of Ohio tragedy, spotlight shines on weak exotic animal laws (with video)

Here and Now

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Just one day after a massive operation to hunt down and kill almost 50 exotic animals that were released from their Zanesville, Ohio, home, animal rights activists are agitating for reform.

Ohio is one of about ten states where it is perfectly legal to keep and buy exotic animals. In fact, Terry Thompson, the man who owned the animals before committing suicide Tuesday night, needed a permit for the native bears he kept on his property, but he needed no license for his lions and tigers — all of which were killed.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said since 2003, there have been 29 cases of people being injured or killed by exotic animals in Ohio alone, but there is still resistance to making changes to the laws.

“It’s impossible to maintains these sorts of animals in in a captive setting. It almost always turns out badly for the animals,” he said.

Pacelle and his group had reached an agreement with the previous governor of Ohio to implement an emergency regulation prohibiting people from aquiring new exotic animals. It also would have required any convicted felons to give up their exotic animals as of May 1.

Thompson, who was recently released from a one-year jail term for illegal posession of a firearm, would have been required by law to find new homes for all of his exotic animals. Unfortunately, the new Ohio governor did not renew the regulation when it came up in April, meaning Thompson was free to keep his animals as long as he wanted. 

“This guy should not have even had a dog or a cat, no mind 50 or 60 exotic animals,” Pacelle said.

Pacelle ponted out that Thompson has a history of complaints, including repeated problems with his animals escaping their enclosures. In this case, police had to kill their animals because there was no means of corralling so many potentially dangerous animals, especially with their pens not only open, but also many were damaged.

For the humane society, the buying and selling of exotic animals has been a point of priority for many years. In 2003, they worked with the U.S. Congress to get a law passed that bans the interstate transport of big cats for the pet trade. They’d been working on other regulations last year, but they were held up in the U.S. Senate. Pacelle hopes this might be the turning point in the American conciousness that leads to a total overhaul of laws and regulations concerning exotic animals.

“Maybe this case will be the one that shines a spotlight on something we’ve been clamoring about for years: This unregulated, inhuman trade in exotic animals for a variety of purposes,” he said.


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