Ohio leaped into the spotlight yesterday after 56 exotic animals — lions, rare Bengal tigers, bears, wolves, leopards, and a herpes-afflicted monkey — were let loose from a private zoo in Zanesville. Ohio police shot and killed 49 of the animals while only six were captured and taken to the Columbus Zoo. “It’s like Noah’s Ark wrecking right here in Zanesville, Ohio,” said Jack Hanna, TV personality and former director of the Columbus Zoo.
The tragedy exposes the dangers of wildlife trafficking, in which private collectors actively trade in exotic animals all over the states “in a vibrant and poorly regulated market.” According to the Humane Society, Ohio has long been “the center of the exotic-auction industry.” Ohio’s former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) attempted to “crack down” on the market by issuing an executive order that banned new private ownership of exotic animals. Issued on Jan. 6, 2011, it was one of his last acts as governor and lasted 90 days. His replacement, GOP Gov. John Kasich let it expire. Only now, after the bloodbath, does Kasich see it as “a problem”:
But when Kasich took office he failed to extend the ban. Kasich’s spokesman Rob Nichols called the order “unenforceable.”
A state task force, however, is expected to issue new recommendations in 30 days.
“For 200 years, we haven’t had anything,” Nichols told The Post, acknowledging a new law is needed. ‘It’s a problem.”
If Kasich had extended the emergency ban, “the state would have had the authority to remove [the owner’s] animals” as the owner, 62-year old Tommy Thompson, had been convicted of animal cruelty. Thompson shot himself after releasing the animals yesterday.
Only eight states — Alabama, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio — do not have rules regarding exotic pet ownership. It is this “lack of laws and regulation” that “allowed this situation to happen,” said concerned Ohio citizen Liz Dumler. She launched a campaign on Change.org calling on Kasich to ban the sale and already thousands of people have signed on in less than 24 hours. “The deaths of these innocent animals shouldn’t be in vain,” she said.
The Ohio sheriff in charge of hunting down the animals Matt Lutz said he hopes the incident “will spur more stringent legislation regarding ownership of exotic animals.” Kasich asked Lutz to join a task force create rules on ownership that will be put in place within six weeks. State Rep. Debbie Phillips (D) plans to introduce a bill mimicking Strickland’s executive order that will ban private ownership. “It is unfortunate that Governor Kasich chose to let this common sense provision expire earlier this year,” she said. “Had he chose to continue these regulations, we may not have seen [yesterday’s] tragic events unfold”