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Wild Animal Escape from Ohio Farm Highlights Need for Texas to Ban Dangerous Exotic Pets

The Humane Society of the United States is calling on Gov. Rick Perry to act swiftly and 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 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 Texas make it one of the weakest in the country threatening the safety of its residents, and would hardly keep such incidents from occurring here. Just this week, a 4-year old boy in West Odessa was mauled by a pet cougar which highlights the fact that Texas’ existing laws are not strong enough to protect state residents.

“How many more people must die before states like Texas take action to crack down on private ownership of dangerous wild animals?,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “Children have died and suffered injuries 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.

Texas state law requires all people possessing a dangerous wild animal to obtain a certificate of registration from their municipal or county animal control office or sheriff.  Cities and counties can adopt stronger laws. Texas is home to more exotic animals than any other state and more big cats than there are even in the wild.

  • 2011: A four-year old boy was mauled by a pet cougar belonging to a family member. The cage the cougar was contained in had been previously deemed unsafe.. 2006: A tiger escaped from his enclosure due to an electrical outage, and mauled a landscape worker.
  • 2001: A 3-year-old boy was killed by his step-grandfather’s “pet” tiger.
  • 1999: A tiger jumped on a 10-year-old girl who entered the cage with her stepfather to groom the animal. The girl was dragged through the cage and died of head and neck injuries

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. Similarly, Texas with permit requirements should move to a prohibition and expand the list of covered animals.


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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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