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The HSUS Renews Call for Oklahoma to Pass Law to Ban Dangerous Exotic Pets

Ohio wild animal escape brings issue of weak state regulation to light

The Humane Society of the United States is calling on Gov. Mary Fallin 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 urgent request for action comes on the heels of 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 Oklahoma make it one of the weakest in the country, threatening the safety of its residents, native wildlife and farm animals. The Oklahoma state government has no restrictions on private ownership of large exotic cats, bears or primates, or roadside zoos that would keep this incident from occurring in the state.

“How many incidents must we catalogue before states like Oklahoma 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 there have been several people in Oklahoma who have suffered serious injuries and even 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, including Oklahoma, 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.

Oklahoma has no statewide restrictions on owning exotic pets, and the state specifically exempts primates and many other exotic species from its import permit requirement. The state also is home to exotic animal facilities with dismal safety and animal welfare records.

  • 2009: A man reportedly moved from Florida to Oklahoma with 14 tigers and a bear; authorities said the bear was considered native wildlife and required a state permit, but a state permit was not needed for the tigers.
  • 2008: A volunteer at an exotic animal facility was attacked by a liger — a cross between a lion and a tiger — and died of the wounds.
  • 2003: A woman volunteering at an exotic animal park died after being attacked by a tiger, who severed her arm.
  • 1997: A leopard burst from a cage at another facility and killed a woman.

With little oversight of exotic animal ownership, states like West Virginia, Wisconsin and Alabama are not far behind in terms of regressive policies. 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.