The image still is etched in my mind, as it is for millions of Americans: the corpses of dozens of tigers, lions, bears, and other large wild animals lined up or stacked in a dead pile. The site was the farm of a notorious exotic animal owner and convicted felon in Ohio, and sheriffs’ deputies shot the animals because the owner set them free just before night was falling.
Why was this man allowed to have these powerful, potentially dangerous, and wild animals in the first place? Only because Ohio has become the Wild West for private ownership of dangerous exotics, and the problem has proliferated beyond any common-sense comprehension.
Yesterday, a task force created by Ohio Gov. John Kasich—including HSUS’s Ohio state director, Karen Minton—issued its recommendations for legislative action and recommended a ban on private ownership of these animals, except for accredited zoos and sanctuaries. I issued a statement to the press yesterday that I was encouraged by the recommendation. Lions, tigers, chimps, and other powerful wild animals do not belong in our backyards or basements, and should only be found in their natural habitats or accredited zoos and sanctuaries where their needs can be met. There should be no “casual ownership” of these animals, as representatives from the Kasich administration have rightly said.
It’s now time for the legislature to act and to do something that is proportional to the nature of this severe problem in Ohio. It should act before the end of the year, so that not another month goes by without strong standards in Ohio. We must prevent any more human tragedies and mass shootings of wildlife. And we must have no half-measures or tepid responses. A ban on keeping these wild animals as pets must be the outcome.
It won’t be clear sailing. HSUS members and others who care about these animals will have to speak up. Polly Britton, of the Ohio Association OF Animal Owners, sounded off in the Columbus Dispatch that the task force recommendations are not anything that she and her group can live with. Ms. Britton wants to keep the status quo, and her organization routinely opposes all manner of animal welfare legislation, whether upgrades of state anti-cruelty or anti-cockfighting laws, new rules on puppy mills, and certainly rules to crack down on the private ownership of dangerous exotics.
The mayhem and death—both human and animal—can be prevented with sound policies. We look forward to working with Gov. Kasich and the legislature to have a strong law on the books and stem the tide of dangerous wild animals in the community.