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Ohio moves to restrict dangerous animals after scare

A sign posted on Interstate 70 warns drivers of animals loose in the area around Zanesville
A sign posted on Interstate 70 warns drivers of animals loose in the area around Zanesville

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - An Ohio lawmaker on Tuesday will propose restrictions on exotic animal ownership, four months after the release of dozens of dangerous beasts including tigers and grizzly bears set off a brief panic in rural Ohio.

But animal rights activists said the proposed limits on ownership were too little too late.

On October 18, a man caused a panic by releasing 56 exotic animals, including predators such as lions, tigers, grizzly bears and wolves, and then shot himself. Police hunted down and killed 49 of the animals, six were recovered and sent to the Columbus Zoo and one was apparently eaten by the other animals. One of those sent to the zoo died last week.

Ohio is one of seven U.S. states that lack restrictions on exotic animal ownership. The proposal would eventually ban the private sale and purchase of specific animals considered potentially dangerous.

The difficulty lies in deciding which animals should be restricted and determining how many potentially dangerous exotic animals are in Ohio. For example, the proposal would not ban ownership of venomous snakes or primates.

The proposal will be introduced by Senator Troy Balderson, a Republican who represents the district that includes the Zanesville farm where the animals were released, his spokesman Joshua Eck said on Monday. Ohio still has not said publicly how many exotic animals are held in the state.

The Humane Society said it would prefer an outright ban on all animals, including primates and deadly reptiles, said Debbie Leahy, captive wildlife regulation specialist for the group.

"It is way past time for Ohio to deal with this issue," Leahy said.

Current owners would have to register their animals within 60 days of the law's passage and they would have until 2014 to comply with the law under the proposal.

The ban would not apply to accredited zoos, research facilities, circuses, private shelters and sanctuaries. Private shelters and sanctuaries would have to be certified and maintain a nonprofit and no-exhibit status, Eck said.

The farm from which the dangerous animals were released would not qualify under the proposal, Eck said.

The other states with no restrictions are Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Wisconsin and West Virginia, the Humane Society said.

Thirteen other states ban some species of dangerous captive wildlife but allow others, and 18 states and the District of Columbia do not have outright bans on ownership but require permits for certain species.

(Editing by David Bailey, Daniel Trotta and Greg McCune)

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