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Kate Dylewsky: Exotic animals law good for W.Va., wild creatures –

Monday, March 31, 2014, By: Kate Dylewsky

West Virginia just achieved a milestone in animal welfare and public safety legislation. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed the Dangerous Wild Animals Act (HB 4393) into law March 25, ending the state’s status as one of only six states with no restrictions on exotic pets.

Introduced by Del. Randy Swartzmiller (D-Hancock), this law bans the future private possession of all “wild and exotic animals” in the state. It creates a Dangerous Wild Animal Board to develop a comprehensive list of these animals. It also addresses the problem of “roadside zoos” by requiring exhibitors with exotic animals to be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Whether it’s cuteness, intelligence, novelty, or danger, exotic animals hold a certain intrigue as “pets.” Thousands of people purchase wild animals each year, bringing untamed wildlife into their homes and forcibly trying to assimilate them to a domestic lifestyle. But these animals are inherently unsuited for private ownership. Wildlife belongs in the wild, and captivity is both cruel to the animal and poses a significant threat to public safety.

Imagine a monkey trapped in a basement for 15 years, with no sunlight or other monkeys to play with. Imagine a tiger cub who is purchased as a baby, but spends his adult years languishing inside a cage with no protection from the weather.

Exotic pets are typically isolated and deprived of the ability to express their natural behaviors. Private owners often extract the animals’ teeth and fingernails, and the animals are frequently tethered, chained, or caged — all in an attempt to “tame” them. They are mutilated and mistreated in the name of so-called companionship.

The strength and unpredictability inherent to most wild animals also creates a serious danger for the owners and the community. Born Free USA maintains a database that tracks incidents involving exotic pets ( Since 2000, multiple incidents have been reported in West Virginia of exotic pets escaping and threatening public safety. In Huntington, a 13-year-old girl suffered injuries after being bitten by a “pet” capuchin monkey. In Berkeley County, a monkey, who was suspected of having hepatitis B, bit three children. In Charles Town, nine Savannah cats and a serval were found in a house, and one of the cats bit a police officer. Wild and exotic animals can not only injure people, but can pose a serious disease risk. Primates can transmit Ebola, tuberculosis, and herpes B to humans.

These types of tragic incidents strain community resources. Often, local police departments, which are poorly equipped to handle wild animals, are forced to respond to animals who escape or are abandoned by their owners. One high-profile instance occurred in Zanesville, Ohio, when a man released 56 exotic animals from his private farm. The incident cost the local police department $8,000 in overtime, and was traumatic for the police officers and entire community.

Nonprofit organizations, such as Born Free USA, must also deal with the consequences of exotic pet ownership, because sanctuaries become the dumping grounds for unwanted animals. The Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary is familiar with the burden of limited resources, as this sanctuary, and many others, are strained further by each new animal who has nowhere else to go. This prohibition on future private ownership of exotic animals will greatly reduce the overwhelming responsibility that sanctuaries must bear.

Born Free USA celebrates the compassion that West Virginia legislators demonstrated by passing HB 4393, because no animal deserves to suffer such a horrifying fate, and no bystander deserves to be attacked. This law brings us one step closer to ensuring that such tragedies are history.

Kate Dylewsky is a program assistant at Born Free USA.

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Where the Wild Things Are: Do Exotic Animals Belong in California?

by - KCET
on March 26, 2014 1:24 PM

We Americans are keepers of many things — in this particular matter, I can’t bring myself to use the word “own” — toasters that sear the image of Jesus on our bread and ticket stubs from Abba concerts, not to mention kangaroos, lemurs, muntjac deer, potbellied pigs, lions, capuchin monkeys, cobras, pythons, and white tigers.

Exotic animals were in the news here in Ventura County last week, the Ventura County Planning Commission denying exotic animal trainer Irena Hauser’s application to house up to five white tigers in Deer Creek Canyon, an unincorporated residential community in the Santa Monica Mountains north of Malibu. The commission’s decision was close — 3 votes to 2 — and it elicited applause from residents who had feared everything from incessant tiger roars to tigers padding through their living room. The decision ended (for now at least) more than a year of debate, some of it, not surprisingly, heated. The writer of a newspaper editorial was incensed, as writers of editorials often are.

“The applicants for a tiger training facility near Malibu, which I oppose vehemently, are not conservationists. They are business people who intend to use these poor creatures for their own profit,” wrote Van Vibber.

Those on the rejected end — Irena Hauser and her sister, who operate ISIS Preservation, a company which supplies white tigers and other exotic animals for Hollywood productions — were not happy, pointing out, among other things, a blemish-free safety record at the sisters’ exotic animal facility in Canyon Country in Los Angeles County (they had hoped to open the Deer Creek facility to give the tigers more room; the two white tigers they currently own will now remain at the Canyon Country facility). Hauser also pointed out that the dogs in the Deer Creek community make far more noise than tigers ever would. Here I side with Hauser. We have dogs on either side of our home. Sometimes I wish a tiger would eat them.

“Obviously we’re very disappointed,” Hauser told a reporter after the Planning Commission’s decision. “I really feel the facts weren’t looked at as facts. Much of it was strictly emotional.”

Animals are an emotional issue. I’d sooner question a Hell’s Angel’s parenting than suggest a different brand of dog treat to the average American pet owner. America can be at war’s doorstep, but America’s fingers are frantically clicking a video of a darted bear cub.

Here’s an interesting thought. It’s believed that more exotic animals live in American homes than are cared for in America’s zoos. This tucked away factoid, not to mention the tucked away animals themselves, is sometimes unveiled in a big way. When Hurricane Andrew roared through South Florida in 1992, it was as if Noah himself had thrown wide the doors, panthers and Burmese pythons and pretty much everything else promenading down Main Street. Many critters slunk into the Everglades, which has never recovered its ecological balance.

It is a complex and curious relationship we have with exotic animals: kangaroos raised in diapers and bottle-fed, monkeys dressed in baby clothes, lemurs snuggling with their human counterparts through the night. Sometimes the human portion of the relationship explains the relationship in heart-breaking terms. “All my life,” says one owner of exotic animals, “people have let me down. My animals never have.”

With full disclosure in mind, I confess I should not be casting stones. When I was a 12-year-old sprite, I was briefly the possessor of a small boa constrictor named Longfellow (after the poet). Longfellow was surprisingly neat and clean, and demanded little — the occasional mouse and the occasional backyard stroll (carefully monitored). It should be noted, though, that snakes are escape artists and 12-year-old boys are sometimes lax. So it was that our entire neighborhood once went on high alert when I discovered the top of Longfellow’s cage nudged aside and Longfellow gone. Eventually my grandfather, sitting on the back porch, looked up at the ceiling and mildly observed, “You might be interested in that.” We pried Longfellow out of the crack with chopsticks. Longfellow was eventually given to the Washington Zoo, where he passed the remainder of his days as a happy member of the zoo’s breeding program (I’m guessing here, for we never forged that close a bond).

I would not own a boa constrictor now, though these days exotic animals are even easier to find (without doubt, you can buy anything on the Internet). I was a 12-year-old boy, hypnotized by snakes, and my parents mistook me for a boy of some responsibility.

But let’s be honest here. Exotic. If the word doesn’t make you want to own it, touch it or look at it, it may make you want to fight to preserve it. “Climate change and human population growth could wipe out a species in record time, so having a backup population is a good idea,” Lynn Culver, executive director of the Feline Conservation Federation told a writer. To which groups like the World Wildlife Fund counter bunk — the captive breeding of endangered species, says the WWF, only continues to bolster the already thriving market for exotic animals, many of them snatched from their wild homes (this doesn’t even address the matter of inbreeding of exotic animals — white tigers in particular — once they are in captivity). Interestingly, as I was writing this column, three elephants briefly escaped from a circus visiting St. Charles, Missouri, tromping upon several cars in an adjacent parking lot (Circuses are another stand-alone debate; if you really want to flip the debate switch on, there’s the matter of zoos).

I am not judging entirely. I am just saying.

No one debates that the keeping of exotic animals has resulted in terrible tragedies, though domestic pets have certainly provided their share of tragedy, too. It’s just that when exotic animals go astray, they can go big. Outside Zanesville, Ohio, one Terry Thompson released 50 wild animals he kept, tigers and lions among them, and then shot himself. With big cats dodging cars and padding through backyards, the local police had no real choice. They shot most of the animals. You can Google the photos of their carcasses strewn outside Thompson’s property, but I’d advise against it. It is an oppressively sad and terrible waste.

In my readings, I came across many arguments advanced by exotic animal owners for the keeping of exotic animals. Some owners of highly endangered species argued that caring for the captive-bred creatures helped keep them present on this planet, an argument that is difficult to dismiss. Though many states ban the keeping of exotic animals (on an animal by animal basis), bans, argued some exotic animal advocates, don’t work — look at alcohol and prostitution. They also argue that the number of incidents involving injuries from exotic pets pales in comparison to the number of people who visit the emergency room for dog bites each year (I am not a statistician, but I believe the comparison is not entirely fair).

Some keepers of exotic animals pointed to past precedent: exotic animals have been owned by monarchs and kings, no doubt, well balanced souls all. My personal favorite, an exotic animal owner who professed that she would rather be killed by a lion than a “stupid drunk driver.” An acquaintance of mind, a fellow journalist, once did a piece on a man-eating lion plaguing a series of African villages. Based on what he told me, I would opt for the drunk driver every time. Many exotic animal owners are folks who truly mean well, say a volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary who adopts a rescued animal in need of a home. There are as many arguments as Burmese pythons thriving in the Everglades.

I am not criticizing. Everyone’s logic can be questionable at times, just as we all sometimes slant the facts to suit our needs.

In my reading, I came across an account of a former exotic animal owner who traveled to Africa. When he saw wild animals on the open plains and grasslands, he experienced something of an epiphany. Returning home, he handed his wolves and monkeys and big cats over to sanctuaries where they’d have at least a semblance of the space he had seen on the African plains. I thought this was interesting.

Recently I was hiking in the Amazonian rainforest, where capuchin monkeys chattered and shrieked as if engaged in some debauched frat party, while making tremendous leaps that saw the jungle foliage dip and crash as if assaulted by overweight rain drops. They followed us for several miles. I am not an expert on the issue of wild animal possession, but I will say that I doubt there is a cage big enough.

Perhaps I am slanting the facts to suit my needs.

See the article here:

Law restricting exotic animals in Ohio demands enforcement

Sun, March 23, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.- The Vindicator

Owners of thousands of exotic animals in Ohio gambled that the state’s new Dangerous Wild Animals Act would be found unconstitutional. They passed up the chance to register their animals by the Dec. 31, 2013, deadline, which would have allowed them to keep their animals under a grand- father clause.

Now they’re in illegal possession of their wild animals, and the state faces an enforcement challenge that’s going to be more expensive and more intrusive than it would have been.

In early March, a federal appeals court upheld Ohio’s restrictions on exotic animals, rejecting a claim by owners that the law is too stringent. They also claimed it violates their free speech and free association rights because it exempts sanctuaries, research institutions and facilities accredited by some national zoo groups, such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Zoological Association of America.

In their suit, the owners stated that they “believe that private exotic animal ownership, free from government intrusion, should be lawful.”

In other words, they think that in a state where owners are required to have licenses for dogs, it’s none of the state’s business if they have lions, tiger, bears, gorillas, pythons and hundreds of other species in and around their homes.

A U.S. District Court judge in Columbus didn’t buy that argument in 2012, and three appeals court judges didn’t buy it this year.

The court said that the owners’ unwillingness to meet permit requirements or seek exemptions under the law does not mean that the measure compels them to join certain groups. “The act imposes a choice on appellants, even though it is not a choice they welcome.”

The owners also challenged the state’s requirement that animals be implanted with a microchip, calling it government intrusion on their property. The state argued persuasively that the requirements were similar to laws requiring license plates on cars, exit signs in buildings or fences in yards.

The owners are free to take their appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, but that is likely to provide little more than a further delay. Scores of states have had more restrictive laws on private ownership of wild animals far longer than Ohio, and those haven’t been found unconstitutional.


Ohio was dragged into the age of restriction by the horrendous events of October 2011 near Zanesville, when Terry Thompson, who operated an unregulated private zoo, released 50 wild animals into the countryside before killing himself. Faced with the oncoming night and the danger that roaming big cats and bears represented, the Muskingum County sheriff gave the only order he could: shoot to kill. Authorities killed 48 of Thompson’s animals.

Amazingly, six months later, while the Legislature continued to stall passage of a wild animal law, Thompson’s widow demanded that the Columbus Zoo release to her five animals that survived. The zoo was forced to comply, and she took them back to Zanesville.

The General Assembly finally passed a bill in May 2012 that was put into force in stages. The law required owners to get a new state-issued permit by Jan. 1 of this year. It also required background checks, fees, proof of liability insurance or surety bonds and a demonstration that they can properly contain and care for the animal.

During a two-month registration period in late 2012, 150 owners — private citizens and zoos — registered 888 dangerous wild animals, according to the Department of Agriculture.

In an interview with the Norwalk Reflector, Tim Harrison, the director of Outreach for Animals, a nonprofit exotic animal rescue organization, estimates that 90 percent of owners did not register their exotic animals. He said in Ohio, there are 1,000 to 1,500 lions, tigers, leopards and cougars, and about 1,000 bears.

The law defines wild animals to include: hyenas; gray wolves, excluding hybrids; lions; tigers; jaguars; leopards; cheetahs; cougars; bears; elephants; rhinoceroses; hippopotamuses; African wild dogs; Komodo dragons; alligators; crocodiles; caimans, excluding dwarf caimans; black-handed, white-bellied, brown-headed and black spider monkeys; common woolly monkeys, and red, black and mantled howler monkeys.

The Department of Agriculture built a $2.8 million, 20,000-square-foot temporary holding facility in Reynoldsburg. It was completed at the end of February, and since it opened 28 exotic animals — 24 alligators, three bears and a cougar — have stayed there. Harrison says his organization has moved 206 animals this year out of Ohio to sanctuaries across the country.

That leaves a lot of exotic animals in private hands and unaccounted for in Ohio.

Erica Hawkins, spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, says the state will work with owners who want to complywith the law, even if they did not register their animals.

“They need to reach out to us as soon as possible,” she said. “But the law is still the law. There’s limitations in what we’re able to do.”

Those who have ignored the law so far would be wise to contact the Department of Agriculture now and reach whatever agreement they can. Otherwise, one complaint from a neighbor could bring the full force of the law on them , and there will be no room to bargain. Their animals will be confiscated and the blame will fall squarely on them and their intransigence.

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