Ohio takes one step forward, two steps back in protecting Big Cats
Next week marks the one year anniversary of the unforgettable tragedy that took place in Zanesville, Ohio when a troubled exotic animal owner, Terry Thompson, released over 50 dangerous animals from his backyard menagerie before taking his own life.
This heartbreaking event not only resulted in the deaths of dozens of tigers, lions, bears, wolves and primates; it also made an unavoidable statement that private ownership of wild animals in the U.S. is broadly prolific, sparsely regulated, and a growing affliction on local law enforcement, public safety, and animal welfare.
In less than a year, Ohio state government responded strongly to this statement by passing new legislation that would ban the private ownership and breeding of wild animals such as tigers, bears, and large constrictor snakes.
On June 5th, 2012 Governor John Kasich signed the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act (Bill 310) into effect. By taking this major step forward, this new law requires all current owners to register their animals with the Ohio Department of Agriculture by Nov. 5th 2012 before entering a permitting period in the coming year.
As this deadline approaches, there has been growing concern for how to handle animals surrendered by owners unable to meet new standards or those confiscated by noncompliant owners.
This is not an issue to be taken lightly, as it has been estimated that Ohio possibly contains the largest numbers of big cats in private ownership in the U.S., although it is impossible to know for sure.
Earlier in September, Gov. Kasich’s administration proposed a $3.5 million dollar holding facility that would provide temporary housing to any wild animal regulated by the recently passed legislation. This state-run facility would not be open to the public, nor would it provide the animals with long-term care or any outdoor access.
While we applaud Ohio lawmakers for their assertive position on this issue and commitment to preventing future private ownership of these amazing yet hazardous creatures (for both human and animal well-being), we are concerned about this plan to construct a “high security prison” for removed or displaced animals.
While the well-intentioned purpose of this facility is to provide temporary housing to animals until they can either be returned to their owners or moved to a permanent sanctuary, the unfortunate result will likely be a concrete penitentiary that quickly fills to capacity, putting great strains on state funds and serious concerns for the animal welfare.
On the contrary, the $3.5 million dollars just approved to build this facility could be better used to support transportation and increase capacity at qualified wildlife sanctuaries prepared to provide life-long care to incoming animals. This will ensure permanent placement of wild animals, reducing stress on animals as well as limiting danger to the general public. Furthermore, a state-run facility may be vulnerable to budget cuts, further compromising welfare.
Private ownership of wild animals is not a state issue and Ohio is by no means alone in the fight. Tigers, cougars, and bears are kept in basements, apartments, and back yards across the U.S. and it will take the entire country, not single states, to finally put an end to the hazardous and inhumane ways people wish to keep wild animals “close”.
Nevertheless, Ohio deserves commendation for the new laws put forth to attack this issue on a state level. However, seeking permanent, high-quality and appropriate placement for displaced animals will go to greater lengths in highlighting their achievements than a temporary holding facility that will ultimately imprison innocent animals, exemplifying a hopeless future.