Few Ohio exotic animals registered a year after farm panic

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 20, 2012 11:09 AM

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A year after authorities shot dozens of wild animals let loose on a southern Ohio farm - lions, endangered tigers and bears - few owners of exotic animals have registered their beasts under a new Ohio law.

The owner of the animals, Terry Thompson, released his collection of exotic animals from their cages and committed suicide on October 18, 2011, unleashing a panic authorities quelled by killing 49 animals, including many large predators.

The incident in and around the Zanesville, Ohio, farm prompted calls for Ohio to pass new laws covering animal ownership. Before Zanesville, the state had some of the most permissive laws in the nation.

Ohio lawmakers in June approved rules covering "dangerous" animals and set a November 5 deadline for owners of such animals to register them. Only 17 had by Thursday, the state said.

Ohio had few rules governing wild animal ownership, but believes that there are many more than 17 owners of animals deemed dangerous under the new law, said Erica Pitchford Hawkins, spokeswoman for the state agriculture department.

Marian Thompson, widow of Terry Thompson, was not among the owners who had registered, Hawkins said.

Five surviving animals were returned to Thompson and the Zanesville farm after six months in quarantine because existing state laws could not prevent their return: a spotted leopard, a black leopard, two Celebes Macaque monkeys and a brown bear.

Marian Thompson said in a letter to WBNS-10TV news in Columbus, a CBS affiliate, on Wednesday that she plans to write a book, "a true account of this unbelievable and tragic chapter of my life."

Thompson's attorney could not be reached for comment.

Hawkins said Ohio believes there are more owners and expects to get additional registrations by November 5. Owners who do not register dangerous animals by the deadline will not be able to get a permit later, she said.

First-time offenders can be charged with a misdemeanor, but the law does not permit the state to seize animals until after the ban takes effect in 2014.

"A year ago, Ohio law made it easier to buy, sell and own a tiger than a squirrel," Ohio Agriculture Director David Daniels said. "We've fixed that, and today Ohio, our communities and these magnificent creatures are safer for it."

Owners must register dangerous animals and obtain insurance and state permits. The law prohibits trading, buying and selling of the animals and requires owners to obtain state authorization to transfer them out of Ohio.

The law bans ownership of lions, tigers, bears, elephants, wolves, alligators, crocodiles, and certain kinds of monkeys as pets by private citizens starting in 2014.

Animal-owner groups have called the new law a knee-jerk reaction to the incident. It was not clear where animals would be taken if owners do not follow the law, but the agriculture department has asked for $3.5 million to build a facility.

(Editing by Doina Chiacu)