Exotic Animals Non Grata in Ohio

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Some politicians issue pardons as they leave office, while others make last-minute appointments. Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland is instead leaving his constituents with a message: Dangerous wild animals pose a threat to Ohio’s citizens.

In an executive order issued yesterday, Strickland restricted the possession, sale and transfer of big cats, bears, wolves, large constricting and venomous snakes, crocodilians and non-human primates (though the last specification is not, presumably, meant to condone the trafficking of actual humans). The order goes into effect immediately but will expire in 90 days — meaning it will be up to incoming Republican Gov. John Kasich to make his own statement about the private ownership of exotic pets. (See the top 10 miniature animals)

The event at the heart of this order took place in August, when a 24-year-old Ohioan named Brent Kandra was mauled to death by a bear at a home in Columbia Township, about 30 minutes outside Cleveland. He worked with another man who keeps exotic animals and was attacked when opening the bear’s cage for a feeding. At the family’s request, the black bear was eventually put down. Still, people of the town remained uneasy; the death of that bear left seven others, wolves, tigers and a lion in the Buckeye menagerie of Sam Mazzola.

Mazzola says that the order, which bans the new ownership (as well as selling and trading) of wild animals, has little bearing on a situation in which the victim was an animal caretaker. But the fight over exotic pets, taken up on one side by animal rights activists (and concerned citizens) and on the other by passionate owners, is a much larger story. (See the top 10 strange mass animal deaths)

Those against exotic animal ownership, like the Humane Society, say that owning these animals is bad for them, that most private owners can’t meet the animals’ needs in captivity and are putting themselves and their neighbors at risk. Those supporting ownership often say that all animals were once wild and that they’re being unfairly persecuted for a hobby or pet that they love — since highly publicized maulings like Kandra’s prove that such deaths are the exception to the rule.

The problem for people championing wild animal ownership is that however compelling their statistics, their arguments are hardly as powerful as Kandra’s devastated parents endorsing Strickland’s order. More than half the states have some kind of ban in place, while most others have certain licensing restrictions. And it only takes one poignant accident to get more legislative balls rolling. What do you think, Swamplanders? Is owning exotic pets an unnecessary risk or are the owners of such animals victims of irrational fear?

(See the top 10 animal news stories of 2010)