Yesterday, Ohio’s exotics law, signed by Governor John Kasich in June, took effect—more than a month before the October 18th anniversary of the worst captive wildlife incident in American history. In Zanesville, Terry Thompson, a mentally troubled owner of more than 50 large mammals, including tigers, lions, and grizzly bears, cut the fences and took his own life, releasing the animals into the community in the late afternoon. In response, law enforcement officials, worried that the night would soon overtake the dusk, shot all but a few of the animals. The result was a grisly and deeply disturbing body count of beautiful creatures who themselves did nothing wrong.
The new law forbids private citizens from acquiring new dangerous exotics, such as big cats, bears, and some primates, and sets up a registration system and animal-care standards for people who decide to hold on to exotic animals currently in their possession. The hope is that once the current class of captive animals held by private citizens reach the end of their natural lifespans, then Ohio will no longer be home to bears in basements or tigers in make-shift cages in the backyard.
For years, The HSUS has been warning about Ohio’s decision to allow private menageries as large as Terry Thompson’s to thrive. The terrible incident he caused was the most extreme in terms of outcomes for the animals, but it was just one of a laundry list of incidents in which animals and people have been injured or killed because of the wrong-headed decision by private citizens to keep dangerous wild animals as pets.
Nevada is one of six remaining states with no rules governing private ownership of exotics—the others are Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. In the last month, there were two chimpanzee escapes in Las Vegas, with one male chimp gunned down by authorities who feared the powerful animal might hurt someone.
There are people who think it’s their right to keep any animal they want. They have always been in the minority, but now, increasingly, their views and behavior are judged not just as extreme, but also dangerous. There are too many human victims, like Charla Nash in Connecticut whose face was severely disfigured when a chimpanzee attacked her at the home of the animal’s owner. And for the animals thrust into these settings, it almost never turns out well. They die from lack of care, or become casualties of attempts to control them should they escape. Or they are set loose or discarded, pawned off on a caring person or a sanctuary operator, with all of the costs for lifetime care transferred to someone who had no role in the original reckless decision to acquire an animal. Or they lead a life of privation and loneliness in some shoddy enclosure, roadside zoo, or domestic setting.
We shouldn’t be so selfish, or so naïve to think it’s okay to keep a powerful exotic animal as a pet. Ohio’s new law is a good one, and the other states with few regulations on exotic animals should work to pass similar legislation.