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Zanesville, Ohio, Wild Animal Escape Renews Call for Nevada to Pass Law to Ban Dangerous Exotic Pets

The Humane Society of the United States is calling on Gov. Brian Sandoval to issue an emergency order or otherwise direct the state wildlife agency to immediately adopt regulations or undertake a rulemaking process to address private possession of inherently dangerous wild animals. This request follows the escape Tuesday night of 48 wild animals—from bears to wolves to lions—from an exotic animal menagerie in Zanesville, Ohio. . Lax laws in Nevada make it one of the weakest in the country, threatening the safety of its residents, and would hardly keep such incidents from occurring here. Nevada currently has no laws regulating the ownership of exotic animals.

“How many incidents must we catalogue before states like Nevada take action to crack down on private ownership of dangerous exotic animals,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “In recent years, at least three individuals have suffered injuries or death because the state hasn’t exhibited the foresight to stop private citizens from keeping dangerous wild animals as pets or as roadside attractions, and the situation gets more surreal with every new incident, including this mass escape or release of large animals in Muskingum County, Ohio.”

In response to the Zanesville incident alone, Ohio authorities have already spent enormous resources on personnel, helicopters, infrared, and equipment to chase down and kill free-roaming exotic animals in order to protect public safety.

Authorities reported that exotic pet farm owner Terry Thompson was found dead on his Zanesville property, and cages were open where he had kept dozens of lions, bears and wolves. The animals were roaming the streets, and many have already been shot by responders.

Ohio is one of five states that don’t regulate private ownership of dangerous wild animals, jeopardizing public safety and animal welfare. Addressing the issue was one of the elements of a deal struck by The HSUS and agricultural leaders in Ohio to advance a series of animal welfare policies in the state.

Below are details concerning exotic animal laws and incidents involving exotics in Nevada:

Nevada: Almost anything goes in Nevada when it comes to owning exotic animals (other than venomous snakes and crocodilians), and the consequences have sometimes been deadly.

  • 2009: A 3-year-old boy was bitten and squeezed to the point of unconsciousness by his parents' 18-foot pet reticulated python.
  • 2008: Animal services personnel responding to a call about a large dog on the roof of a home instead found two pet leopards who had gotten loose.
  • 2007: A 73-year-old woman was killed by wolf hybrids her son kept as pets.
  • 2006: A sick, malnourished mountain lion cub was abandoned at the Las Vegas Zoo in the middle of the night. The de-clawed animal had clearly been someone's pet.
  • 2003: Roy Horn was attacked by a tiger during a performance in Las Vegas. Wild animals are frequently put on display at the state's entertainment venues. 

Nevada, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and Oklahoma have the five worst state laws restricting exotic animals. With little oversight of exotic animal ownership, states like West Virginia, Wisconsin and Alabama also have weak laws concerning exotics. Some states that previously had no restrictions on exotic pets have enacted prohibitions in recent years — such as Washington, Kentucky and Iowa — putting them now among the best in the nation. Some states that already prohibit certain wild animals such as big cats as pets need to add primates to the list, including Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan and Virginia. 


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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org


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