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Thursday, October 20,2011

Local state rep proposes ban on private ownership of large exotic animals

Move comes in wake of animal slaughter in Muskingum County

State Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Athens, has proposed legislation that would ban private ownership of large, exotic animals in Ohio.

The proposed legislation comes in the wake of the incident in Muskingum County on Wednesday in which a collector of exotic animals killed himself after releasing 56 of the animals including bears, tigers, lions, leopards, monkeys and cougars at his farm near Zanesville.

Sheriff's deputies who responded to the farm ended up killing 49 of the animals, including 18 endangered Bengal tigers. The officers were concerned that the wild animals would hurt people living in neighborhoods not far from the farm, which also borders I-70.

In announcing the legislation, Phillips explained its purpose. "Although an owner's intentions to keep exotic animals may be good, unfortunately, most private citizens do not have the proper training or resources to take care of wild animals," she said in the release. "Their properties often are not equipped to safely contain wild animals, which poses a danger to themselves as well as other community members."

The bill, which includes an emergency clause, closely mirrors the expired executive order issued by former Gov. Strickland last January. The bill permits existing owners with federal licenses to keep their animals but requires that they must register them with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife. Owners must also embed microchips in the animals so they can be tracked if there is an escape from the owner's property, according to the release.

"It is unfortunate that Gov. Kasich chose to let this common-sense provision expire earlier this year. Had he chosen to continue these regulations, we may not have seen today's tragic events unfold," Phillips said in the release.

Kasich has defended the move, saying that there was no legislation backing up the former governor's executive order. According to the Columbus Dispatch, he had appointed "a working group (at the ODNR) to craft legislation controlling the sale and ownership of exotic animals and reptiles. That group has been developing a proposal in private meetings for several months but has not completed the task."

Reports indicate that Ohio is one of only a few states with little or no regulation over the private ownership of wild animals, and has one of the highest incidences of injuries and deaths caused by exotic animals.

Rep. Phillips said she intends to introduce her legislation in the near future.


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