Exotic animal owners criticize ‘Wild Animal Act’ | News
By Denise Grant- Findlay Courier Staff Writer
Owners of exotic wild animals in northwestern Ohio say the state's new Dangerous Wild Animal Act will make it difficult to keep their animals, and question if the state is able to properly care for exotic animals it confiscates under the rules.
Amy Rausch of rural Arlington owns eight macaque monkeys. She called a new state shelter, built in Reynoldsburg to house confiscated exotic animals, a potential killing field.
"The state keeps saying it will work with zoos and sanctuaries to find the animals homes, but the zoos and sanctuaries testified that they are full. There is no room," she said. "I'm concerned that the state will have no choice but to start euthanizing animals" it seizes.
"Anyone who would rather see an animal dead, as opposed to being cared for in a loving home, has issues," Rausch said.
Rausch cites testimony given on the legislation in March 2012 to the Senate Agriculture, Environmental and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by state Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay.
For example, Anne Baker, CEO and director of Toledo Zoological Gardens, testified in favor of the bill, but said zoos won't be able to take the animals.
"While we might be able to help on a temporary basis, it is unlikely that we would be able to permanently house any confiscated animals, as none would be genetically qualified to be part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums endangered species program," Baker said.
Hite has toured the Reynoldsburg shelter, and described it as clean, spacious and state-of-the-art. He said it is capable of housing several types of animals for as long as necessary.
The goal would be to move them to a zoo or reputable sanctuary whenever possible, he said.
Hite said most other states already restrict ownership of exotic animals, which made Ohio a destination for less reputable animal owners.
Under the Dangerous Wild Animal Act, it is now illegal in Ohio to trade or sell several different types of primates and big cats, some smaller exotic cats, bears, hyenas, gray wolves, elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, cape buffaloes, African wild dogs, Komodo dragons, alligators and crocodiles.
Anacondas, pythons, vipers and some venomous snakes are also restricted.
Zoos, research facilities, licensed circuses and accredited wildlife sanctuaries are exempt, but must still obtain permits from the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
The law does allow current owners to keep their animals. Owners must register their animals and comply with several new requirements regarding liability and care.
Rausch is the only exotic animal owner in Hancock County registered with the Ohio Department of Agriculture's Dangerous Wild Animal Office.
The registry includes only one owner in Allen County, Ben Osting of Delphos, with three ring-tailed lemurs. In Hardin County, Cinda Bame of Dunkirk registered a tiger and a bobcat. In Seneca County, Beau and Nancy Nighswander have registered two Japanese snow monkeys, two brown capuchin monkeys and one cougar.
In Wood County, Kenneth Hetrick of Perrysburg operates Tiger Ridge, a private zoo at 5359 Fremont Pike. Hetrick has worked with exotic animals for 30 years.
He registered seven tigers, three lions, two grizzly bears, one black leopard, one bobcat and a liger, which is a lion/tiger mix.
Hetrick's private zoo has been licensed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 25 years.
Tiger Ridge bred the tigers used in the movie "Gladiator." Two of Hetrick's tigers previously served as school mascots, and two as props for theme park photos until they outgrew the role and were brought to Tiger Ridge.
Educational institutions will still be permitted to use exotic animals as mascots under the act.
Both Rausch and Hetrick said they have kept their animals without incident.
"I've operated from the same spot for years. I have half a mile of fencing and all the animals have shelter, good food and water," said Hetrick. "No one has ever been hurt here and none of the animals has ever escaped."
Hetrick estimates there are at up to 4,000 exotic animals in the state.
"What are they going to do if they get overwhelmed with the numbers? What are they going to feed them? It's going to be very expensive," he said of the state. "We're putting criminals back on the streets and closing prisons because we can't afford to keep them open, and then we build a new prison for animals?"
Hetrick said all the new rules are a knee-jerk reaction to the Zanesville tragedy in October, when exotic animal owner Terry Thompson released 52 of his animals from their cages and then committed suicide. Fifty of the animals were killed by law enforcement officials.
"There was obviously something wrong with him," Hetrick said.
Hetrick said the trouble-free history of his own animals now means very little. He called the new rules costly, confusing and even dangerous for the animals.
One of his grizzly bears died after being anesthetized in an attempt to microchip the bear, as required by the law.
"The new law says I have to castrate all the (monkey) males, regardless of age or whether they are being bred. Really, I'm going to castrate a 16-year-old monkey?" Rausch said. "That's going to be quite traumatic."
Rausch has owned her oldest monkey, Haley, for 17 years. Haley is an 11-pound, brown and red, Java macaque monkey. The Java macaque is native to Southeast Asia and the South Pacific Islands.
Next came Joshua, a 13-pound, brown Java macaque.
Rausch is married, and the couple keeps their eight monkeys in cages inside their home.
A requirement to maintain $1 million in liability insurance is going to be difficult for both Rausch and Hetrick. They said the insurance is expensive and hard to find.
"It makes me think of all those pit bulls that have been killed needlessly, and then those rules were turned around," Rausch said. "There are no statistics that show the need for this."
But Hite insists the new rules are meant to keep everyone safe.
"If you have a cougar running around inside of your house and it is part of your family, fine," Hite said. "I just don't want it to be able to get out and hurt my family, if we live next door."
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