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October 19, 2011

Dangerous, Exotic Animals Let Loose in Ohio

Terry Thompson is dead. Speculation is that he took his life last night near Zanesville, Ohio, just after opening the cages for the 50 or so large carnivores and primates he kept on his property.

Today, local and state authorities hunted down and shot and killed just about all of the animals, including 18 Bengal tigers and 17 lions as well as wolves, grizzly bears, and other animals he acquired.

He had no state license for keeping the vast majority of these animals. And he had no federal license.

Tiger face
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He did, however, have a conviction for animal cruelty from 2005. And he was just three weeks out of prison for a separate offense–firearms violations that landed him in the brig for a year.

He’s not the sort of guy who should have any animal, no mind a dangerous exotic.

If an Ohio emergency rule promulgated in January by the former governor had been extended in April by the current governor, this man probably would not have been legally permitted to have any of these dangerous exotic mammals. But Gov. Kasich, apparently concerned about the legal authority of the state to adopt and implement this rule, let it expire. Ohio law authorizes the DNR to regulate the ownership of wild animals, and the governor has broad constitutional authority to issue emergency orders to protect public health and safety.

For the past six months, there have been no rules relating to private ownership of dangerous exotic animals in Ohio, and that was a perfect free-for-all circumstance for a criminal like Terry Thompson.

His case, tragic and appalling in the extreme, is just the latest exotic animal incident in Ohio. Last year, 24-year-old Brent Kandra was killed by a bear owned by Sam Mazzola, another convict who maintained an animal menagerie for no good purpose.

In our nation, we have an epidemic of people acquiring and housing lions, tigers, bears, pythons, alligators, chimpanzees, and other potentially dangerous animals. Buying an exotic animal through a breeder or over the Internet is as easy as ordering a book online. People do it for selfish reasons, ignoring the needs of the animals and sometimes putting other people at risk. While the human deaths get most of the attention, the animals almost always end up dead or in miserable circumstances. They don’t belong in our backyards or basements, and the law must speak to prevent this sort of cruelty and public menace.

Ohio isn’t the only place where political leaders have failed to do the right thing. So have leaders in two dozen other states. Key Congressional committees have indicated they have no interest in pending federal legislation to ban the interstate transport of primates for the pet trade. And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t issued a final rule to stop the trade in nine species of large constricting snakes, even though a Burmese python killed a little girl recently in Florida and the animals have wreaked ecological havoc in the Everglades.

How many incidents of mayhem and death do we need to get a sane policy on private ownership of dangerous wild animals?

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