Ohio Cracking Down, W.Va. to Review Laws

COLUMBUS – Ohio Gov. John Kasich issued an executive order Friday to tighten restrictions on exotic wild animals in the state.

Concerns about exotic animal laws surfaced in Ohio, West Virginia and other states after this week’s incident in Zanesville, Ohio, where exotic animal owner Terry Thompson released 56 of his animals before killing himself Tuesday. A total of 48 animals – 18 of them rare Bengal tigers – were killed to protect the neighboring community.

Ohio will work with health departments and humane societies to better enforce existing laws, try to temporarily halt auction sales and shut down unlicensed auctions under Kasich’s executive order. Ohio also will review existing permits it issues to people who own wild animals native to the state, such as black bears. Thompson had four black bear permits.

Kasich said the state will work with zoos to see which could accept confiscated animals and will try to help any that take them.

The Republican governor, who let a tougher order signed by his Democratic predecessor expire in the spring, defended the approach. He said a committee has put drafting new laws on a fast track for the end of next month.

“Governors can’t just invent laws,” Kasich said. “I really wish I could have the power just to enact any law I want, but we have a system of government that doesn’t do that.”

West Virginia lawmakers also will review the Mountain State’s exotic animal laws when the Legislature convenes next year, acting Senate President Jeff Kessler said Friday.

State wildlife officials don’t have the authority to regulate animals not native to West Virginia. As a result, permits are not needed to keep such wildlife as a Bengal tiger in the Mountain State.

“A lot of people in West Virginia have snakes and boa constrictors,” said Kessler, D-Marshall. “But there’s a difference between a ferret and a coyote, a mountain lion and Siamese cat. There are animals meant to be kept in the wild and not be domesticated.”

Kessler said his staff will look at West Virginia’s existing exotic animal laws in the coming weeks. He also plans to have Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, and Natural Resources Committee Chairman William Laird, D-Marion, examine the code.

“We’re going to rely on professionals – the DNR (state Department of Natural Resources) and conservationists – to re-examine our laws,” he added. “It’s not necessarily going to be a knee-jerk reaction because something happened in Zanesville.”

West Virginia’s state animal is the black bear, and the hunting of bears is monitored by the DNR to ensure the species isn’t eradicated, he continued.

Other wild species such as coyotes have caused problems in the state, Kessler noted. He added that a growing mountain lion problem is becoming an issue in West Virginia.

“There are animals used to being in the wild and not in controlled environments,” he said. “And anybody who wants to put a tiger cub on a leash for a day because it’s cool – what do they do when the cub grows up and it has the ability to tear a man apart with a bite? Does it go to a zoo? Or do they abandon it in the wild? The alligators dropped into the river don’t pose a danger until somebody has their children down at the river sunbathing.”