Tragedy for wildlife in Ohio should be seen as a seismic legislative opportunity
By now, most of us have heard the news coming out of Zanesville, Ohio, where the owner of an animal preserve set free dozens of exotic animals--including cheetahs, wolves, bears, lions, and tigers -- before taking his own life. In the wake of this tragedy, there is certain to be outrage, concern and questions--with the most important question in my opinion being: Why should anyone, let alone a convicted felon with a history of animal abuse, be allowed to keep wild animals in captivity?
Instead of attempting to place blame, we must all agree that more stringent legislation is needed to ensure the safety of the public and the animals. Ohio is one of nearly a dozen states that currently has no regulation to prevent the private ownership of dangerous exotic wildlife. In Ohio, individuals can purchase tigers, cheetahs, chimps, and countless other species from private breeders and auctions.
These animals often end up spending their life in backyard cages, where they suffer in deplorable conditions and struggle to survive. Certain pieces of legislation discourage this type of private ownership. The Captive Wildlife Safety Act, a law which makes is illegal to ship large, dangerous cats (tigers, lions, leopards, etc.) across state lines, was signed into effect on September 17, 2007.
In Ohio, an executive order issued last year by then Gov.Ted Strickland prohibited people convicted of animal cruelty from owning exotic pets, and banned private citizens from acquiring certain dangerous wild animals. However, this emergency order expired in April and has yet to be renewed. Many questions still remain to be answered in the coming days.
However there is one thing we already know for sure: these wild animals should never be privately owned as pets. When they are, the animals (and their owners) always suffer, and the results are often tragic. All of the staff here at the International Fund for Animal Welfare deeply regret the death of these innocent animals but understands that public safety is the first priority in this time of crisis.
Even if rescued, the future of these animals is bleak. Reputable animal sanctuaries are increasingly hard to find, and all are already bursting at the seams with unwanted animals. IFAW, along with the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries has already helped re-home more than 350 animals from a bankrupt sanctuary over the last 12 months, and there are more sanctuaries facing economic downfall in the present recession.
The captive wildlife crisis in Ohio is a tragedy for both the animals and the community in Zanesville, and our hearts go out to everyone dealing with this emergency.