MOUNT VERNON — The need for state regulation of the ownership of exotic animals has never been more evident than since Tuesday’s release of more than 50 captive animals, including 18 endangered Bengal tigers, by an owner who then took his life. A statewide task force designed to tackle the issue has been meeting for several months, and held a conference call on Wednesday to discuss the urgency of the situation.
“It needs to be comprehensive legislation,” said Knox County Assistant Prosecutor Chip McConville of the measure to regulate the sale, breeding and ownership of non-native animals. “That is our goal.”
McConville represents the state’s association of prosecutors on the task force which also includes representatives of animal rights groups including the Humane Society of the United States, the veterinarian association, two zoo organizations, the Ohio Farm Bureau, representatives for owners of exotic animals, and conservationalists. The task force has been meeting to develop clear legislation that protects citizens and animals.
McConville explained the expired executive order issued by former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland left too many variables unexplained including the definition of a wild animal.
“It’s using the term ‘wild’ to define ‘wild’ but wild isn’t defined anywhere,” he said. “Is something really wild when it is non-native and lives in a cage? Is captive different from wild? The definitions in all of that really need to be shored up and there needs to be an explicit mandate from the general assembly that says we want, whoever, probably the Department of Natural Resources, to be able to regulate these things and here is how they are defined.”
He told the News the Humane Society of the United States is taking this as an opportunity to say an immediate, emergency executive order is necessary to fix the state’s growing problem of unregulated exotic animals.
“I’m not sure that is going to get the job done,” McConville said.
What needs to be done, he said, is for the task force to put a proposal together for the general assembly that will outline what, if any, animals would be banned from private ownership, what animals could be owned with specific documentation or to outline who can own what animals and under what circumstances.
“The first hurdle is what is a dangerous wild animal,” he said. “... The first issue is to come up with a list of things that fall within regulatory authority.”
In order for new legislation to be successful, it is imperative, according to McConville, that the agency charged with the oversight of permits and regulations be self-sustaining.
“It would have to be able to collect enough revenue to support it,” he said. “If there is a regulatory scheme there where DNR is going to be issuing permits, inspecting things — or who ever is going to be charged with doing that — is going to have to collect enough revenue to support it. The permitting process, if there is going to be one, is going to have to pay for the machinery that is going to have to be there to enforce it.”
McConville expects the ODNR to find a sponsor for the legislation on the agriculture committee to “shepherd it through the legislature.”
Throughout press conferences on Wednesday, Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, said it was imperative for the state of Ohio to put legislation together that not only regulated the ownership of animals but also put a stop to the sale and auction of exotic pets in Ohio. This would include the Mid Ohio Alternative Animal and Bird Sale which takes place in Mount Hope three times a year.
While DNR officials have stated proposed legislation is expected within the next 30 days, McConville was hesitant to put a time frame on the proposal because so many questions still need answers.
“Given this set of events, this puts an exclamation point on the need to do something,” McConville said.